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Tweens/Teens

….and how do I keep my kid from doing it?

By Sharon Miller Cindrich

Q: I recently heard about "sexting". What is this and how can I keep my child from doing it?

Vanessa Hudgens, the star of High School Musical, was revealed in the buff when photos from her computer were posted online. Risqué images of Miley Cyrus hacked from her cell phone were posted online. These sexually-charged activities are examples of a current trend among teens called sexting.

Sexting is a term that refers to the act of sending sexually explicit content - photos or messages - to someone through electronic media, and it's not just a Hollywood phenomenon. According to a recent survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancies and CosmoGirl.com, one in five teens have electronically sent or posted online nude or partially nude photos of themselves. And more than a third of teens surveyed say it is common for photos like these to be shared with others.

Boys and girls alike have been caught in the act and while 75% of those surveyed who have participated in sexting activities understand that sending revealing photos or even sexually explicit messages can have seriously negative side effects, say they do it anyway.

What's a parent to do?

First, don't panic. Not every teen is sexting or exposed to sexting. However, understanding the trend and talking to kids can help keep them from following their impulses. Try these tips to help keep kids from overexposing themselves and putting their safety and reputation at risk.

Consider peer pressure. Is your child in a "serious" relationship with another teen? The survey found that more than 50 percent of the girls who "sexted" did so under pressure from boyfriends. Address the pressure and feelings your child might be experiencing in a serious relationship.

Explain consequences. It only takes a second to make a bad judgment call, but the consequences can last far longer. Once your child has passed along revealing photos, those images can be easily passed farther along to the receiver's entire phone list, posted online or e-mailed to others - potentially posted for years to come. Talk about the far-reaching effects of sexting.

Understand the law. Sending nude photos of any child under the age of 18 can fall into the category of child pornography. Even teens sending photos of themselves may be breaking the law.

Talk, talk, talk. As usually, making sure kids understand what sexting is, why it's not appropriate and what consequences may follow is extremely important. And helping kids understand that sending explicit sexual content over the phone is not a way to be intimate or loving. Find great resources on the subject of teens, tech and sex at www.stayteen.org .

Local Teens Charged by Leigh Anne Van Doren

Spotsylvania School administrators are warning parents that good students can make bad choices when texting; choices that can end in a permanent criminal record.

“We have taken a proactive position with parents on internet security since 2006,” said Dr. Jerry Hill, superintendent of Spotsylvania schools on a March 12 Fox 5 interview on the recent sexting charges brought against two Spotsylvania High School students.

The two students were charged with possessing child pornography and electronic solicitation. An underage girl had emailed compromising photos of herself.

“Parents need to take this kind of thing really seriously. We need to make parents aware that a lasting criminal record could result from this type of activity,” said Hill.

There can also be lasting emotional repercussions for the girls who send photos because they trust someone, and then have that photo spread to others without their permission.

“Jessica Logan, an honors student in Ohio, ended up taking her life; a really sad situation for such a promising young student” said Hill.

Hill predicted that the school system would sit down with the sheriff’s department to plan an evening parenting workshop on internet safety to address these issues. Fredericksburg Parent and Family will post details as soon as they become available.

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