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The consequences of sexting

3/29/2011 11:43:00 AM

This past Sunday, the New York Times ran a front page article on sexting, which should be compulsory reading for all middle school students and their parents. It describes in harrowing detail how one momentary lapse of judgment by an eighth-grade student at a school in Olympia, WA snowballed out of control, until it became a full-scale crisis involving hundreds of students, parents, police, and local prosecutors.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the whole story is how quickly events unfolded, and how easy it is to imagine the exact same scenario taking place in any community around the country: boy dates girl; girl sends boy nude picture; boy-girl split up; boy shares picture with another girl with a grudge; girl with grudge shares picture with every contact on her cell phone.

Just like that, lives are ruined. In the Olympia case, dozens of students were interviewed by the police and three were charged with disseminating child pornography, but not before the nude picture had been circulated to hundreds and possibly thousands of cell phones. A year and two school transfers later, the picture still trails the girl wherever she goes. No-one knows how many times it has been uploaded to the Internet and how many times it has been seen on Facebook and MySpace.

Think it could never happen to your child? Think again. Surveys have shown that one in five 14- to 17-year-olds have been involved in some type of naked sexting – either sending images of themselves or receiving them from other people. That means if your daughter is at a slumber party with 10 friends, it’s virtually guaranteed that someone will bring up the idea of sexting.

And the type of school and average income of the parents have nothing to do with it. Some of the highest profile cases of sexting in the past two years have originated in fee-paying schools in Connecticut and Washington, D.C.

Reaction to the Times’ article covers the full spectrum, from sympathy to outrage. Many parents have criticized the heavy-handedness of local law enforcement, wondering why police and prosecutors are involved in what should be a matter for parents and school authorities. That theory is fine until it’s your child’s picture that is circulating on the Internet.

Of course, schools and law-enforcement can only do so much. They are not an antidote for hyper-active hormones and the peer-pressure that reassures your teen that “everyone else is doing it.” At that moment they have to fall back on the sound advice they got from mom or dad, and trust the gut feeling that tells them “this is wrong.”

Better have that talk sooner rather than later.

Have you spoken to your child about sexting? How did you start the conversation? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!

Comment by Paul Grossinger, posted 7/18/2012, 12:06 AM:

If you worry that your kids are sexting, it can be very hard to act because they will never tell you! But you should try MMGuardian Parental Control, which lets you monitor keywords of choice so you know when your kids are sending or receiving sexual messages and you can take the right action! You can download it at: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mmguardian&hl=en
Comment by Jennifer Wagner, posted 4/6/2011, 12:58 AM:

We have to make teens realize that when it comes to sending anythingg, especially pictures, they can't trust anyone, best friends and boyfriends included. Once something is digital, it will most likely be seen by others then the sender intended. We have to keep showing them examples like this.
Comment by Dana, posted 4/6/2011, 12:13 AM:

This story makes me sad but doesn't surprise me at all. I wish young people had more self esteem and more self worth. I wish virtue was something that was valued more than looks or sexulaity. However, that is hard to teach in a society that has to use sex to try and sell a pack of gum. My daughter is only 3 so I don't have this issue yet. Who knows what the issue will be when she reaches her tween/teen years. I like the comment above about "If you wouldn't send it to Grandma ...don't send it."
Comment by Jean Tracy, MSS, posted 3/30/2011, 10:42 AM:

This important article needs to be in the hands of every teen,tween, and parent. Thanks for sharing it.
Comment by Melissa Ford, posted 3/30/2011, 7:28 AM:

Great article! Sometimes it helps to start the conversation by having your child read an article - like yours. I also wrote on sexting and featured a video from our local Chicago news station. Here's the link: http://www.oakpark.com/Community/Blogs/11-05-2010/Sexting_-_Keep_Lines_of_Communication_Open Keep the lines of communication open with your kids. AND, to understand that kids at this age are impulsive. One mom advised her kid: If you wouldn't send it to grandma don't send it.
Comment by Leighbra, posted 3/29/2011, 9:34 PM:

Haven't exactly covered this (or the age old past-time of letting your boyfriend take Polaroids of you), but we have talked about how once you send a text, email or pic, you do NOT get it back. When a celebrity does something regretful, now's your chance to talk about it! My daughter's reading Danica McKeller's math books. She's very impressed w/ this intelligent women. But there are many images of her online hardly clothed. We discussed how that may not be how she always wants to be remembered.
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