In Cape Cod this week, another group of middle schoolers was found “sexting” photos of a 13 year old female classmate to each other. (Watch the newsclip here.) If you haven’t heard, “sexting” is the act of sending nude photos of yourself or others via your cell phone. A recent study conducted in December suggested that I out of every 5 teens in America has tried sexting, either via cell phone or while online.
Said Gerry Leone, the Middlesex, Mass. DA, “The fact of the matter is, you have no control over the image once you send it, and no control what someone else will do with it once you send it.” He said the focus in this case will not be on prosecuting these kids on child pornography charges, rather, it will be on educating and training students to “prevent these kinds of things from happening in the first place.”
Another recent case in San Diego details how teens have been sending naked self-portraits to each other via cell phone. (A warning letter about this was sent home recently to parents of kids who attend the Diegueno and Oak Crest Middle Schools there, since several cases have occurred in the past 2 years. The kids involved ranged in age from 13 to 17.) School resources officer Anthony O’Boyle was quoted as saying that the problem is two-fold: “Possession and distribution of such pictures, which are by definition child pornography, is against the law.” And again, once the photos are sent, you have absolutely no control over what happens to them.
Call me clueless, but I don’t understand how kids would think this is OK. Are ideas about sexuality and nudity so completely different from when I was a teen-ager? (I guess the answer is obviously yes!) I know that kids do not have the ability to understand the consequences of their actions, but this one seems pretty cut and dried to me — you send out a nude photo, and pretty soon everyone in the school, town, state and country can see it. And somewhere down the line, you know that predators are viewing these photos, too.
I think the answer is that we have to aggressively educate our kids at home and at school. I’m not naive enough to think that will stop all sexting, but at least it’s a start. In some states, kids are being prosecuted on child porn charges. Do you think they should be? And how do you talk to your child about sexting and their online activities? Finally, what would you do if you caught your son or daughter doing this? (The first thing I’d do — throw their cell phone in the lake!)