Sexting: a parents’ prevention primer

You’ve probably heard or read about teens who have been caught “sexting.” Within the last year, our local news covered several stories where criminal charges were filed against area high school students as a result of sexting. But do you know what it is or what the consequences are if your child is caught?

Sexting involves sending text messages with a picture or a movie of people who are nude or engaged in sexual acts. It also includes possessing, forwarding or posting these images online. Many teens don’t realize that possessing, sending or taking images of a minor that involve nudity or sexual acts is a felony crime. It doesn’t matter how old the offender is or whether they took the picture or video. These images are child pornography and kids who possess or distribute them could be required to be listed on the sex offender registry.

If you think that your child would never do this or doesn’t associate with anyone who would, consider the following. A survey performed by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and Cosmogirl.com found that 1 in 5 teens ages 13 to 19 have posted or sent text messages with these kind of images. There’s some debate about whether this study overestimates sexting, but given the consequences, it’s worrisome if even one in 10 teens does this.

Many teens don’t know the long-term consequences of sexting. They get caught up in the moment trying to impress their friends. But once these images are sent, control is lost. No matter how much you trust someone, it only takes one argument for that picture to be sent out to friends, family and complete strangers.

If your child uses a cell phone, talk to them about appropriate use and ask them to think about the content of their messages before sending them out. If they receive one of these messages, have them delete it and report it to an adult they trust. Hopefully a small talk can avoid a big problem.

For some great information on sexting and general internet safety, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics site at safetynet.aap.org or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s site at NetSmartz.org.

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