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Posted at 1:06 PM ET, 02/24/2010

So you really think your kid doesn’t sext?

By Valerie Strauss

I was all caught up in the controversy about the Pledge of Allegiance when a colleague sent me this message via our internal message system:

diamondback story. a female student is quoted as saying sexting can come in handy when you’re looking for a late-night hook up.

I said goodbye to the Pledge and quickly called up the story on the University of Maryland student newspaper’s website, to find a story in which a student is quoted as saying this about sexting:

“It’s fun. When it’s just a hookup, there’s this ‘forbidden fruit’ kind of idea, so sexting makes it even more appealing.”

My stomach turned just as I got another message from my colleague:

“it makes me sad that girls/young women have so little self respect.”

Indeed, it does make me sad. But it makes me mad too.

While the girl quoted above is a college student, sexting is happening at much younger ages, too. And somehow, it’s always the girls who get caught up in publicity about sexting; the responsibility of boys for soliciting and then spreading the pictures is mentioned far less often in the media.

This was a point that author Rosalind Wiseman made to me in a recent discussion we had about sexting. She wrote a terrific article in Family Circle, about it. Wiseman, who wrote the book “Queen Bees and Wannabees,” which was turned into the movie “Mean Girls” by Tina Fey, researched sexting for months. She went to schools to talk to kids and administrators about who sexts, why, and what schools do about it.

“The girl stuff always becomes public,” she said. “When boys send pictures of their penis it rarely does. Because the girls are in sexual poses and it fits into this culture of girls and sexuality, it gets forwarded to peers,” she said. “When girls get pictures of genitals, they tend to freak out. They say, ‘This is gross,’ and tend to take it to an adult. So we get a skewed view of who is doing this."

She believes that sexting is more common than current statistics lead us to believe. There is a range of percentages, depending on the survey, but a common stat is this one: In 2008, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that 20 percent of kids 13 to 19 had sent partially or completely nude pictures of themselves or someone they knew.

“I don’t think it’s possible to walk down the hallway [of many schools today] today and not see a naked picture of someone [on a student’s cell phone],” Wiseman said.

Another big problem, she said, is that parents don’t want to hear about it. Many refuse to believe their child would be involved.

Instead of burying their heads in the sand, she said, parents need to sit down with their children and talk plainly about why sending these pictures out is wrong, and why forwarding them is just as bad.

“Parents should tell kids, ‘Even if you get it and send it, I’m going to consider you responsible for the humiliation of another individual.’”

And one more tip: Take away your kid’s cell phone at bedtime. That’s when a lot of inappropriate material is sent.

“I say to parents: “Tell your child that the use of a cell phone is a privilege and not a right. Use it as an extension of our family values. If you use it to humiliate someone, I take it away.”

Then actually do it.

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By Valerie Strauss  | February 24, 2010; 1:06 PM ET
Categories:  Health  | Tags:  sexting  
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Next: Why not fire all the teachers?

Comments

Your title is rather misleading. You quote a stat that says 20% of teens sext. Sure, that's 20% too many, but that leaves 80% NOT doing it. Which means, there are a LOT of parents whose kids DON'T sext.

Posted by: LadybugLa | February 24, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

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