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Posted at 11:55 AM ET, 09/ 3/2009

Is Your Kid 'Sexting'?

By Valerie Strauss

It is easy to dismiss stories about celebrities whose private nude pictures are splattered over the Internet as a problem that won’t cross your personal world as a parent.

Think again.

Look at these statistics, from a public survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy , about young people who have electronically sent, or posted online, nude or semi-nude pictures or video of themselves:
*20 percent of teens aged 13-19
--22 percent of teen girls
--18 percent of teen boys
*11 percent of girls ages 13-16

The percentages are higher for teens who have sent or posted sexually suggestive messages:

39% of all teens
37% of teen girls
40% of teen boys
48% of teens say they have received such messages

This is being seen as such a problem that the Houston school district just banned sexting on campuses. A lawyer for the system said such behavior doesn’t belong in school.

It is, of course, not likely that a girl will send nude pictures of herself to the love of her life during Algebra 2.

And schools could ban cell phones in the classroom. Any parent who must reach a child during school hours could do what they used to do before cell phones--use a land line and call the office. Teachers, too, can confiscate any phones they do see.

But schools aren't the real location of concern here--and they can't fix the problem. This is work for parents.

Even if you can’t link a camera-equipped phones directly to Facebook or My Space, your kids can do it in a flash. Increasingly significant technology is allowing kids to do things they shouldn’t well before they have the judgment to see the long-term consequences. And they are real. My husband was going to hire an attorney at his law firm--until he looked the young man up on the Internet and found pictures posted exhibiting drunken and otherwise unfortunate behavior.

I talked to Eyal Yechezkell, chief executive office of a New York-based online and text message-based survey company called Predicto Mobile, about what parents can and should do to address this growing problem.

Here is his advice about what you can do to try to curb activity that could come back to haunt your kids:

a) “The first thing parents have to do is really have the talk,” Yechezkell said. “It’s about communication. You have to sit down with your kids and explain how dangerous it is sending these images.

Tell them, ‘If it isn’t good enough to send to grandma, don’t send it. Think before you type. Think before you send.’ ”

Part of the discussion should be about relationships and trust.
Inappropriate pictures are often sent by boys or girls who think that their partners are going to be in love with them forever. A lot of the time, of course, the recipient winds up sharing he pictures with their friends and they share it with their friends and....

b) Don’t give your kids texting capability on their phones if they can’t handle it properly. You pay the bills, so you set the limits. The world functioned well enough before we were able to do this and it can without your kids texting at will.

c) Check your phone bills and see when your child is texting. An employee of Yechezkell’s discovered that her child was sending dozens of texts, under the covers, at night when the mom thought the kid was asleep.

d) Get a Facebook page and monitor what your kids are doing. Don’t let them tell you that you are intruding into their private lives. Nothing on the Internet is private.

If you teach your child one thing today, let it be that.

By Valerie Strauss  | September 3, 2009; 11:55 AM ET
Tags:  Parents, Sexting, cell phones  
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I asked my 14-year-old if he wanted to join Facebook or add texting to his cel phone contract and he said, "No, all people do on those things is say mean stuff about each other." I nodded calmly, but inside I was rejoicing!

Posted by: exkidspost | September 3, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

First, you mentioned that your husband disqualified a job applicant because of some pictures of drunken behavior. Are you telling me that your husband has never been to a bachelor party with (gasp!) alcohol and strippers? Technology has blurred the lines between private life and professional life, but we still need to recognize that people are entitled to have fun once in a while. Your husband may have missed out on a productive addition to the firm. Now if the pictures were of the applicant doing something illegal or blatantly immoral, that's another story.

Sexting is a difficult topic, and one that I think has been blown out of proportion in a sort of moral panic. 14 year olds should not be posting naked pictures of themselves, and parents are right to step in. But as people get older, they should have more control over their bodies and should have the right to make decisions about who they allow to see them. And anyway, I'd rather that an 18 year old sends naked pictures over the phone than has actual physical sex. No one ever got pregnant over the internet.

Posted by: SamG1 | September 6, 2009 9:35 AM | Report abuse

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