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Sexting: Pornography or high tech flirting?

By Judy Reed

It’s something no parent wants to hear—that their child is texting nude or semi-nude photos of themselves to others, or that their child is receiving them. But it is happening on a larger scale than parents might think, and it is not just high school age kids involved.

According to Sherie Kopenski, security at Cedar Springs Middle School, they have tackled three cases this year. “That doesn’t sound like a lot, but one is too many,” she said.

The Cedar Springs Police Department has also been involved in the cases. “If your teen has access to a cell phone, there’s a chance that they have received or sent naked photos,” said Police Chief Roger Parent.  “Sexting used to be between a young couple, boyfriend-girlfriend, but it has recently become an accepted practice for young teenagers who are not in a relationship.  A recent comment during an investigation that ‘Everyone’s doing it’ was alarming.”

The latest case was a 14 year-old female sending nude photos to a male friend of similar age, who was not her boyfriend. He showed the photos to others, and according to Parent, it spread so much in school that it became a school issue, and the police also got involved.  The case is being forwarded on to the prosecutor’s office.

“Given that these images are often minors, officials are taking a hard line approach and may charge the parties involved in an effort to discourage the practice,“ explained Parent.

He said that what parents need to talk to their teenage children about is that the person sending a nude or partially nude photo, even if of themselves, is in violation of existing laws.  The person who receives the photo is in violation by possessing it and other laws address distribution of the photos to others.

He said the prosecutor is looking at it on a case-by-case basis. “It falls under underage porn. She created it and disseminated it. The boy is in possession of it. If he sends it on without permission, that also falls under bullying,” said Parent. And parents need to know that if one of the teens involved is 17 or older, they will face an adult judge.

Kopenski noted that it could have serious side effects. “It’s a lot bigger than we realize. It’s criminal, but there’s the emotional aspect, too. The female sends it to her boyfriend, and then it gets disseminated. She then becomes traumatized.”

Asst. high school principal April Stevens said they haven’t run into cases of sexting affecting classes. “I’m not naïve enough to think it’s not going on, but we haven’t experienced that,” she said.

Several high school students have confirmed that it does go on at the high school level.  “It’s mostly girls sending photos of themselves to boys they want to date or sleep with. The boys then show them around or forward them,” they said. They added that they don’t think the kids look at it as being criminal.

The teens said that many kids also engage in sexually suggestive talk without photos—usually with a member of the opposite sex. “Like if you called a 900 number,” they explained.

A recent study by the National Campaign to prevent teen and unplanned pregnancy showed that one in five teen girls have texted or posted nude or semi-nude images of themselves, and that 39 percent of teens have sent sexually suggestive text messages or emails to other teens.

“Teens are vulnerable and can be very naïve,” said Parent. “Often they do not see all of the ramifications to this problem once involved. Sending a nude photo to a close friend can become a photo for all to see on Facebook or the Internet.  Photos are quickly shared with others and there is no easy way to delete or retract them.”

“It’s disturbing. It’s out there and moving on,” said Parent.

So what is a parent to do?
1.    Talk to your kids about what they are doing in cyberspace.
2.    Know whom your kids are communicating with.
3.    Consider limitations on electronic communication.
4.    Be aware of what your teens are posting publicly.
5.    Set expectations.
Download a complete copy of “5 Tips to help parents talk to their kids about sex and technology” below.

Sexting Parent Tips

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