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School is back – and so is sexting!



Most schools have been back just over a month and fresh stories of teens and even younger children sending nude or inappropriate pictures of themselves via e-mail or text  have already hit the headlines. From Washington to Florida, from California to Pennsylvania, these “sexting” incidents have induced horrified reactions from parents and educators, and a mixed and often confused response from law enforcement agencies.

Parents who believe sexting is an isolated problem that happens to other people’s children are being forced to take a different view. Recent surveys suggest that up to 60 per cent of teens have been involved in sexting at one time or another, either sending or receiving inappropriate images. Whether it’s kids responding to peer pressure, flirting with current or hoped-for partners, or just doing the reckless stuff that teens do, these pictures are coming to light with increasing frequency, often with devastating consequences.

Ask Philip. He was an 18-year-old Florida student when he sent a naked photo of his 16-year-old girlfriend to dozens of her friends and family after an argument. The decision left him a convicted felon and on the state's sex-offender registry.

Ask Jesse Logan’s family. The 18-year-old Ohio student had sent nude pictures of herself to her boyfriend. When they broke up, he sent them to other girls at her school. The harassment and humiliation that followed prompted her to appear on a Cincinnati TV station to tell her story and warn others. Two months later, she committed suicide.

While local prosecutors and judges differ on how to treat offenders, some schools have taken a pro-active approach, setting up seminars and group discussions to address what many believe has become an epidemic. But what can parents do? How can you become involved and head-off a problem that could affect your children for the rest of their lives?

  • First of all, recognize the risks.  If you have two or more children, statistics suggest that at least one of them will be involved in sexting. Talk to your kids and try to get a sense of whether sexting is taking place at their school or among their groups of friends. Explain exactly what you mean by sexting – they don’t have to be sexually explicit images to cause hurt and embarrassment.
  • Be vigilant, particularly if your child is in a relationship. Make sure they understand that relationships don’t last forever and that they shouldn’t give in to peer pressure when something doesn’t feel right.
  • Use real life examples of what can happen, including the well-publicized stories of Philip and Jesse recounted above. Emphasize the consequences – how a moment’s poor judgment can haunt them for the rest of their lives.
  • Stress responsible behavior and note that your kids don’t have to be directly involved in the sexting to be culpable. Re-sending images, spreading rumors, and encouraging others to participate all contribute to an atmosphere that promotes risky behavior.

Above all, be involved and keep the lines of communication open. If you have any doubts as to whether your child is involved in sexting, check chat logs, e-mails, messages and social networking profiles for inappropriate text or images. A little oversight early on can prevent major problems from developing later.

   
 

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