Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Aisha Sultan: Catching Your Child Sexting, Now What?

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Aisha Sultan: Catching Your Child Sexting, Now What?

Article excerpt

More than a hundred teens in Canon City, Colo., were saved from a sexting scarlet letter last month.

Prosecutors decided not to press child pornography or other charges, which would have forced the middle- and high-school students to register as sex offenders for swapping and collecting hundreds of nude pictures. Some teens had evaded parental oversight by using a private Photo Vault app, which allows naked pictures to be hidden on smartphones.

The early data on the rate of adolescents exchanging sexually explicit pictures or messages, known as sexting, had been all over the map, ranging from low single digits to upward of a third of teens. According to recent research by Jeff Temple, associate professor and psychologist at University of Texas Medical Branch, 20 percent to 30 percent of teens will send or receive an explicit text. By college, that number is around 50 percent. And 70 percent of teen girls have been asked to send a naked picture of themselves, he said.

Teens engaged in sexting minimize or dismiss the legal and emotional risks involved. But in 30 states, sexting could carry felony charges under child pornography laws, and the culprits can end up on a sex offender registry. There are 20 states with laws that specifically address sexting, and of those, 11 treat it as a misdemeanor, allowing informal sanctions such as counseling, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center.

When Temple has the opportunity to discuss these risks with students, he begins by asking them if they wear a seatbelt in the car. Every hand in the crowd goes up. Then he asks, "Why?"

The students say they want to be protected in case there is an accident.

"But the chances are slim," he says.

"But just in case," a student typically responds.

Ah, just in case. This is where he wants them.

He tells them to think about how slim the chances of getting caught sexting seem. …

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