Originally Published: April 17, 2010 10:35 p.m.
Have you looked at what's on your teen's cell phone or MySpace account lately?
If you haven't, you should. Teens sending pictures of themselves naked or semi-naked has become a popular trend known as "sexting." According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 20 percent of teens say they have sent or posted lewd photos or videos of themselves.
The survey also said most teenagers were sending these explicit messages and pictures to boyfriends or girlfriends, while others said they were sending them to someone they met online.
Researchers at Rochester Institute of Technology say almost one-third of teens in grades 10-12 have sent or received sexual content online or via cell phone. For children in grades 4-6, that number is one in 10.
"Sexting" is illegal. Possessing photos of children's naked bodies - even their own, and even though they themselves are minors - is child pornography and is a felony crime.
I have two words for parents: Get involved. If you are giving your child the opportunity to be online or use a cell phone, it is your responsibility to know what they are doing on it. Don't tell yourself, "Not my kid."
I am telling you this affects every kid - even the "good" ones. I've had to make several uncomfortable phone calls to parents to tell them their little girl has taken a picture of herself in the buff, and now half the student population has seen it.
Never let your child (legally defined as younger than 18) have unsupervised time on the computer or a computer in an isolated part of the house, such as their bedroom.
Set your boundaries with your kids. Talk to your child about your specific expectations of them when they're online or using their cell phone. Write up a "cyber contract" between you and each of your children that states what you expect of them and have them sign it (for examples of a contract, you may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Expectations should include: ground rules at home, school, friends' houses and other public places when it comes to going online and using cell phones; keeping identity and personal information private; what to do if they receive anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or that they know is wrong; knowing the dangers of meeting people in person that they met online; not assuming privacy (forwarding e-messages is the fastest way to spread gossip and rumors); precautions about taking photos, e-mailing/texting photos, or forwarding messages and photos; how to respond to requests by friends for pictures of themselves and their body parts; and, last but certainly not least, set up clear and concise consequences for when they break the contract and be prepared to follow through. Kids need boundaries and they need consequences for their actions when they test those boundaries.
Talk to your kids every day. Check their e-mail accounts and phones daily and ask them questions about texts/e-mails.
Call your cell phone provider and ask them for help in setting up your child's phone for maximum safety.
Schools need to be educating parents, students and staff members about sexting and the dangers it poses.
Schools should be clear on what their rules and expectations of their students are for use of cell phones, computers, school e-mail accounts, etc.
General school rules include: cell phones must be turned off and stored in lockers, put away, not visible during school hours. If a student needs to use a phone during the course of the day, they must do so through the office or nurse. Cell phones are not to be used in the gym, locker rooms, restrooms, etc. Cell phone cameras/videos are not to be used at school ever. Texting on cell phones is not permitted.
School consequences for violating established rules generally include confiscation of the cell phone by school officials, and a parent must come to retrieve it; detentions; suspensions in the case of numerous repeat offenses; anti-sexting classes and proper cell phone usage classes. Many schools are starting to turn students' cell phones over to the police when the student is found taking or possessing inappropriate photos.
It takes time for our laws to catch up to technology and the issues it presents. Sexting laws are no different.
Currently in many states (as is the case in the state of Arizona), sexting usually falls under two statutes:
1. Pornography Exhibition of a Minor (ARS 13-3506A) Felony 2.
2. Possession of Pornography (Receiving/Sending/Possessing) (ARS 13-3551) Felony 3.
Frequently when I talk with students about this issue, they respond by saying, "But I am just a kid - I can't get charged with child pornography - I am a child!" I usually share with them some stories about real kids in real trouble.
In a case of sexting, a Chippewa Falls, Wis., youth was arrested for showing off to friends nude photos of his ex-girlfriend. The photos were on his cell phone.
A 17-year-old Utah girl who received two images of male genitalia on her cell phone told her mother, who told local authorities. They responded by charging the alleged sender with a third-degree felony.
Fox News reported on Dec. 9, 2008, "A 16-year-old Pennsylvania boy was arrested and charged with possessing child pornography after police say he coaxed a 15-year-old girl into sending him explicit pictures."
Kids are facing charges of serious crimes and potentially could carry a sex offender label the rest of their lives!
Please talk to your kids about this issue and set up very clear boundaries and expectations for internet and cell phone usage. Don't let a little bit of stupidity ruin the rest of your child's life.
Candice Blakely-Stump is assistant principal of Glassford Hill Middle School in Prescott Valley.