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Teens and "Sexting": What You Need to Know About the New Trend

The dangers of sexting

Exploring one's sexuality is a natural and normal part of growing up. The real danger of sexting lies in the transmission of these images and videos, for several reasons. The first is a legal issue: sending sexually-explicit depictions of people under 18 is a felony in all 50 states, even if the sender is also the subject. Receiving such media is also illegal. As a result, sexting carries with it the possibility of being charged as a sex offender or child pornographer. ABC News recently reported on a group of six teenagers who faced felony charges for sharing semi-nude photos of a female classmate.

The more likely pitfall, however, is social. Many sexts will be transmitted beyond the original recipient: forwarded to others, posted on a public forum or social networking site, or even displayed on computers in school. The intent may be malicious - an attempt to humiliate an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend after a break-up, for instance - or it may simply be a case of misplaced trust or bad judgment. Either way, an inherent danger in sexting is that the original sender subjects himself or herself to much wider exposure than intended.

That can lead to harassment, embarrassment, and worse. In the case of Jesse Logan, it can even end in tragedy. While the blame should lay with those who bullied Jesse, the lesson for your kids is to understand that such a thing could happen to them, too, no matter how much they think they can trust their intended recipient. A relationship that's flying high one day can crash and burn the next.

What parents can do

Because smart phones are so discreet, it can be hard for a parent to prevent children from sexting, but there are a few steps you can take. First, determine if your child truly needs a feature-rich phone. Many low-end models still don't have much functionality beyond sending and receiving phone calls. Even if the phone does have peripherals such as a camera, you don't necessarily have to pay for the data plans that support transmission of pictures and videos. Your child may need a cell phone, to be sure, but does he or she really need all of the extras?

Of course, the best way to keep your children from engaging in unwise behavior is to talk to them openly and honestly about it, before it ever happens. You don't want them to learn the hard way about the pitfalls of such behavior. Use these discussion points to talk to your kids about sexting:

  • Understand the consequences. Share with your kids the stories you've read here. Ask them if they know of anybody in their school who has experienced the negative consequences of sexting.
  • Know the law. Specific laws vary from state to state, but sending and receiving sexually illicit photos of minors is illegal everywhere. Make sure your child understands that sexting is against the law.
  • Delete sexts immediately. Your kids may not always be able to control what arrives in their inbox, but they can decide what to do next. No matter how strong the temptation, they should delete any sexts immediately, and tell the sender to stop.
  • Be a good friend. With the rising popularity of sexting, it's likely that one of your child's friends has been the sender or recipient of an explicit message. Encourage your child to share what you've talked about with friends, who may not understand the dangers.

You can also use this discussion as an opportunity to move to a broader conversation about dating and self-respect. Talking with teens about sex is never easy, but it is critical.

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