Affiliation: Rachel Upjohn Building, 4250 Plymouth Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48116, USA.
Introduction: Although an important task of adolescence is to explore one’s sexuality individually and in relationships, technology today has broadened the ways in which teenagers may engage in such exploration. In combination with lack of insight, poor judgment, and impulsivity, this can lead to sexually risky behavior on the Internet or cell phones, with unanticipated and unintended consequences, such as sexual predation, alienation from friends and family, or legal charges.
Objective: The purpose of this paper is to provide information on the relatively new phenomenon of sexually risky use of technology and to offer suggestions for systematic evaluation and treatment of adolescents, with consideration into motivation for behavior, context, developmental age and insight, associated symptoms, and psychiatric history.
Methods: Clinical case reports that illustrate examples of adolescents using technology, including the Internet and cell phone, in sexually inappropriate ways (sexting and online exposure) are used for discussion of diagnostic formulation.
Conclusion: As treatment providers evaluate adolescents, they must be aware of the phenomena of sexually inappropriate behavior with social media and cell phones, ask their young patients about use of this technology, and strike a balance between normalizing behavior that could reflect an underlying or associated psychiatric disorder and pathologizing behavior that might be risky but peer normative. They must also be able to provide psychoeducation to adolescents and parents toward safe use of technology as adolescents develop into maturity and treat (or refer to treatment) as necessary for any underlying psychiatric disorders.