If you've finally mastered "OMG" and "IYKWIM," you may be ready for the next step in deciphering text messages—though if you're the parent of a teen, you might not like what you uncover. That's because teens are spending more time sexting, with at least 25% receiving sexually charged texts and emails, and at least 1 in 7 blasting them out. A meta-analysis of 39 studies by the University of Calgary and Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute, published in JAMA Pediatrics, looked at sexting habits of more than 110,000 kids ages 12 to 17. The study found "sexting is becoming a more common practice among youth," but that instead of freaking out, parents should incorporate it into the sex education their children receive. "Today's teens often do not separate their online and offline lives," study lead author Sheri Madigan tells the CBC. "This is hard for parents to grasp."
The study explains why sexting among teens isn't necessarily a bad thing. Its authors say it can serve as a safe way for teens to first approach the issues of sexuality and intimacy, as long as both parties are equally into it and no one feels forced. If there is coercion, however, or if sexts leaks out to other parties—more than 10% of teens say they've passed along sexts without getting permission from co-sexters—those who feel betrayed can experience mental health issues similar to those found after cyberbullying. Another surprising find from the study, per the Los Angeles Times: Girls are as likely as boys to take part in sexting. What parents should do, according to the study's authors: Offer "age-specific information on sexting and its potential consequences" as a regular part of their children's sex ed. (There are definitely legalities kids should know about.)