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Sex + Texting = Sexting

Sending nude photos via cellphone now has a name. It's called "sexting" and it's the latest talking point for parents of teens.

In Seattle, sexting moved to the forefront in June when school officials at Bothell High School heard rumors of naked pictures of two cheerleaders circulating among football players. School officials received copies of the photos in August and suspended the two girls from the cheering squad, one for a month and the other for the entire school year, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Last month, the cheerleaders' parents sued the school district, alleging that the girls should not have been suspended.

The issue of sexting is arising elsewhere as well, with cases reported in at least a dozen states. In the past month, police have confiscated five cell phones of teens between ages 11 and 17 in Scranton, Penn., and in New York, police have charged a 16-year-old boy with allegedly enticing a 15-year-old girl to text him sexually explicit photos and a movie of herself that he then forwarded to friends.

According to a survey of 1,280 teens and young adults by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl.com, 22 percent of girls and 18 percent of boys say they have electronically sent or posted nude or semi-nude images of themselves. And about one-third of teen boys and one-quarter of teen girls say they have had nude or semi-nude images shared with them. Posting sexually suggestive messages is even more prevalent among the teens surveyed. Nearly 40 percent of them report posting such messages, and nearly half of them say they have received them. In video interviews with the National Campaign, a panel of teens tells tales of sexting in the Washington region. One girl, Mayron, shares the story of a girl from West Springfield High School who sent a photo of herself topless to her boyfriend. "By the end of the day, the whole county had it," Mayron says.

Short of banning camera phones, parents can find ways to get through to teens that sexting isn't such a good idea. For one, "make sure your kids fully understand that messages or pictures they send over the Internet or their cell phones are not truly private or anonymous," says the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. "Also, make sure they know that others might forward their pictures or messages to people they do not know or want to see them, and that school administrators and employers often look at online profiles to make judgments about potential students/employees. It’s essential that your kids grasp the potential short-term and long-term consequences of their actions."

In addition, the National Campaign recommends having your teens leave their phones and laptops in a public place in the house at bedtime, keeping an eye on their electronic pages and postings, knowing their friends -- both in real life and cyberspace -- and clearly setting expectations of "appropriate" electronic behavior.

If you have teens, how do you keep up with the latest in teen technology? Do you watch their Tweets and track their Facebook page? Have you heard your teens talking about sexting? And if your child is a pre-teen, how are you setting the stage for when their technological knowledge surpasses your own?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  December 10, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Teens
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Comments


"make sure your kids fully understand that messages or pictures they send over the Internet or their cell phones are not truly private or anonymous,"

Most teens know this.

"Also, make sure they know that others might forward their pictures or messages to people they do not know or want to see them, and that school administrators and employers often look at online profiles to make judgments about potential students/employees."

Most teens know this as well; 22 percent of girls and 18 percent of boys sext anyway. Knowing that their parents may view the material.

Racy photos have been shared since the camera was invented.

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 10, 2008 7:18 AM | Report abuse

Maybe most teens "know" the messages and photos can be forwarded on but believe in the midst of their luuurrrrvvveee affair that their schmoopie poopie would NEVER do it. As far as posting stuff that could screw them in their quest for the perfect college or job, I assume that's an effort to be "cool." Teens aren't the most clear thinking of creatures. Your only hope is to make all of this crystal clear before they're clouded by hormones and peer pressure, even the "smart" ones.

Posted by: atb2 | December 10, 2008 8:10 AM | Report abuse

Maybe I’m just being naive, but I cannot believe that 22% and 18% of teens would be so stupid as to ‘sext’ nude pics of themselves. What the hell are they thinking?? And hwo can this be stopped? I seriously doubt that parents having a sit down with their teens will have any effect. (All it did for me as a teen was to make sure I was more carful about not getting caught the next time. ;-) ) I would say go ahead and ban the camera phones. Why would a teen need a phone capable of anything more than phone calls anyway? The fact that parents of teens today seem more and more willing to indulge every one of their child’s whims is scary, and in this situation clearly leads to trouble. And you can be sure that eventually these pics end up in the hands of pedophiles. I am really flabbergasted at the stupid choices teens (and their parents) make.

Posted by: falltillfly | December 10, 2008 8:33 AM | Report abuse

I have a bigger issue with kids allowing pictures to be taken of them nude than I do with having them circulated (whether electronically or not).

Posted by: jjtwo | December 10, 2008 8:45 AM | Report abuse

I have a 10 year old and so we are just not at this point yet, but it is just around the corner. She has no cell phone, but wants one desperately. She shares her email account with her younger sister and usually just emails her grandma. She knows that I have full access to her account and we have spoken generically about being careful what you say in emails because people can forward them on to others without your permission. Though at this point I was really thinking about gossip more than inappropriate pictures. I think not allowing your teens to have a camera phone is probably the best idea.

Posted by: thosewilsongirls | December 10, 2008 8:49 AM | Report abuse

jjtwo:

Really? I sort of assumed that they were taking the nude pics of themselves, not that they had someone take the pics for them...
Shoot, when I was a teen (not very long ago) I would never have considered taking nude pics of myself, or letting someone else take them of me, let alone texting/email the pics. But really, maybe that's just me being naive again.

Posted by: falltillfly | December 10, 2008 8:58 AM | Report abuse

As technology progresses at breakneck speed, it may become more and more difficult to "ban camara phones." Right now, you can still find phones without the camara feature, but I would be willing to bet that four or five years from now, that will not be the case. (I am currently trying to find a cell phone with no features except phone calls for my elderly father - I am still looking.)
So, rather then take the tools away from the kids via a "ban", my feeling is that we, as parents, have to find ways to teach them how to safely use the tools that are available to them. There are always going to be dangers, there is no way to ban them all.

Posted by: VaLGaL | December 10, 2008 9:04 AM | Report abuse

When you give your teenager a camera phone, you should inform them that if he/she forwards a nude picture of an underaged teenager, it's quite possible that he/she could end up in court facing a judge on charges of distributing kiddie porn. That's no petty offense, and making the sex offender's list is not something to be proud of.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | December 10, 2008 9:27 AM | Report abuse

We believe that the best defense is to show the kids in person what can happen. In other words, I sit down with them and go through a few Facebook and MySpace pages (and back in the "old" days, Xanga, LiveJournal, etc.) and show them how I can figure out whose blog this is, and this is what your friend Lisa has posted that she probably doesn't want her parents to know about but anyone on the Internet who wants to know DOES know; and oh, look that picture of Cindy smoking the joint has now been linked to over 500 times; and.....

There's no guarantee it will work, but we hope it gets the points across.

But teens are still teens and will do stupid things. Quick - how many of you on this blog will claim you never, ever did one stupid/dangerous thing as a teenager?

The difference today is that these teens will probably have to live with their stupidity forever.

This means that Mom and/or Dad will have to keep up on current technology, but I don't see that as a bad thing. But then I am a geek and I do this kind of thing for a living; YMMV. :-)

Banning camera phones? Ain't gonna happen. Not now, not ever. I hate to break this to you, folks, but Asian locales like Japan, Korea and Hong Kong are about 3-5 years ahead of us in technology. There's stuff that kids over there have that won't be hitting here for a while.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | December 10, 2008 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Racy photos have been shared since the camera was invented.

Very true but what happened to most of them in the old days is the photo lab employees would keep them and not send back the negatives or prints. Then the lab employees would circulate them. This brought about the popularity of the less expensive Polariod cameras. But the colors of these pictures fade over time.

You would be surprise about how many adults have starred in their own sex tapes for purely private use. In the next few years, a lot of children will be shocked to go through their late parents' possessions!

Posted by: anonthistime | December 10, 2008 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Forward nude pictures and kiddie porn - an excellent point, Whacky, and one the courts are dealing with now. Should be some interesting cases in the future.

To answer jjtwo's comment, in many cases the kids take the pictures themselves; in some cases it's with their BFFs. (Just like certain kids did in the olden days with Mom & Dad's Polaroid camera. And yes, I do recall in high school having a guy show off a Polaroid he'd taken of a girl in class, topless.)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | December 10, 2008 10:05 AM | Report abuse

You would be surprise about how many adults have starred in their own sex tapes for purely private use. In the next few years, a lot of children will be shocked to go through their late parents' possessions!


Posted by: anonthistime | December 10, 2008 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Good point. Where does ArmyBrat hide the sex tape he made with the missus?

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 10, 2008 10:11 AM | Report abuse

jezebel - a geek would never use such an antiquated medium as tape

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | December 10, 2008 10:12 AM | Report abuse

jezebel - a geek would never use such an antiquated medium as tape

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | December 10, 2008 10:12 AM | Report abuse


Are you 100% sure that the medium wll never be found?

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 10, 2008 10:16 AM | Report abuse

"Are you 100% sure that the medium wll never be found?"

Hypothetically, were one inclined to record one's sexual activities, one should record and store it on reliable digital media, encrypted using high-quality encryption. Then it wouldn't matter whether the medium were found or not; the finder would think it's a random bag o' bits and bytes. Store the encryption key elsewhere, say on another digital medium (or have it securely generated using any one of a number of methods).

Then, a hypothetical child finding such media would not be confronted with the details of that child's own conception.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | December 10, 2008 10:24 AM | Report abuse

"Hypothetically, were one inclined to record one's sexual activities, one should record and store it on reliable digital media, encrypted using high-quality encryption. Then it wouldn't matter whether the medium were found or not; the finder would think it's a random bag o' bits and bytes. Store the encryption key elsewhere, say on another digital medium (or have it securely generated using any one of a number of methods). "

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | December 10, 2008 10:24 AM


The missus can figure out all this stuff??

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 10, 2008 10:29 AM | Report abuse

The missus can figure out all this stuff??

No need for her to do so, she just was laying there!

Posted by: anonthistime | December 10, 2008 10:33 AM | Report abuse

"The missus can figure out all this stuff??"

No need for her to do so, she just was laying there!

Posted by: anonthistime | December 10, 2008 10:33 AM | Report abuse


LOL! Mrs. Duggar!

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 10, 2008 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Then, a hypothetical child finding such media would not be confronted with the details of that child's own conception.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | December 10, 2008 10:24 AM | Report abuse


Conception? From oral sex? Hand action?

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 10, 2008 10:39 AM | Report abuse

"The missus can figure out all this stuff??"

It's not THAT hard.

(Which I'm given to understand is exactly what jezebel said last night. What a coincidence.)

Posted by: m2j5c2 | December 10, 2008 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Quick - how many of you on this blog will claim you never, ever did one stupid/dangerous thing as a teenager?
Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | December 10, 2008 10:01 AM

LOL - it's a blue-eyed miracle that I am alive and unmaimed or brain damaged given the sheer number and seriousness of the danger I put myself in...we just had different vehicles, not the internet, for dangerous behavior.

Posted by: VaLGaL | December 10, 2008 10:46 AM | Report abuse

I do not say this lightly: if you are stupid enough to take pictures of yourself (or allow pictures to be taken of you) when you're naked or in some kind of compromising position, you deserve what you get. Truly. And this is hardly new on the scene. Whoever pointed out that this has been an issue since the "birth" of the camera is right on the money.

The bigger issue we need to figure out is how to address the sad state of affairs when young girls truly believe that in some way, it's a good thing to do, that it will make them more popular (which it will, in a really bad way), or happier, or whatever. What a shaky sense of self these girls have.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | December 10, 2008 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I do not say this lightly: if you are stupid enough to take pictures of yourself (or allow pictures to be taken of you) when you're naked or in some kind of compromising position, you deserve what you get. Truly. And this is hardly new on the scene. Whoever pointed out that this has been an issue since the "birth" of the camera is right on the money.

The bigger issue we need to figure out is how to address the sad state of affairs when young girls truly believe that in some way, it's a good thing to do, that it will make them more popular (which it will, in a really bad way), or happier, or whatever. What a shaky sense of self these girls have.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | December 10, 2008 12:41 PM | Report abuse

"if you are stupid enough to take pictures of yourself (or allow pictures to be taken of you) when you're naked or in some kind of compromising position, you deserve what you get. Truly."

Does a 13 year old deserve what she gets if the recipient of the photo is a 29 year old she met in a chatroom while the 29-year old was purporting to be 15? Our laws do not agree with your analysis. For good reason.

Posted by: CindyLouHoo666 | December 10, 2008 12:50 PM | Report abuse

CindyLouHoo, while I love your name, I completely disagree with your position. Yes, the 13 deserves that. If you take a naked picture of yourself, you are risking everyone on the planet seeing it, including 29-year old perverts, your teachers, your parents. Smart people -- even children of 13 -- know this. And they don't do it.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | December 10, 2008 12:53 PM | Report abuse

fr thosewilsongirls:

>...Though at this point I was really thinking about gossip more than inappropriate pictures. I think not allowing your teens to have a camera phone is probably the best idea. ,,

I work for a wireless company, and the only thing you have to do is shut off the picture messaging. Call your company's cust svc and have them turn off the picture msg feature. Takes 5 mins.

Posted by: Alex511 | December 10, 2008 1:00 PM | Report abuse

I work for a wireless company, and the only thing you have to do is shut off the picture messaging. Call your company's cust svc and have them turn off the picture msg feature. Takes 5 mins.


Posted by: Alex511 | December 10, 2008 1:00 PM | Report abuse


Is the rumor true that some wireless company employees have access to the photos?

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 10, 2008 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Alex, shutting off picture messaging makes it harder to exchange photos, but not impossible. The camera will still work, so the pictures can be taken. Depending on the model of the phone, the photo can still be downloaded to a computer or even transferred via bluetooth. Once they're on another computer or phone, you've lost control of them again.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | December 10, 2008 1:34 PM | Report abuse

The 16-y-o is *extremely* modest, so I'm not concerned about nude pics of him getting taken or circulated. He'd certainly *look* at provacative pictures of girls if given the opportunity - nothing like having his little brother ask about "Final Fantasy 30" (that's 'XXX') a few years ago, to get the kids' computer out of their room and into a public area of the house.

That 11-y-o OTOH... He regularly gets asked if he wants to live to see 12, and he's just going to get more difficult. He's already had a couple of "girlfriends" - that he will admit to when he's not teased about it too much. But since the bigger one doesn't have a cell phone yet, I think we have set a good precident for not letting the smaller one have one before he has a driver's license, at least. I'm going to hold out for him paying for it himself, too.

Posted by: SueMc | December 10, 2008 1:57 PM | Report abuse

....I'm going to hold out for him paying for it himself, too.

Posted by: SueMc | December 10, 2008 1:57 PM | Report abuse


Spelling Police! Pronto!

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 10, 2008 3:23 PM | Report abuse

To me the disgusting thing is punishing a teenager for choosing to be naked and sharing that privately.

Yes, it's silly and naive to think the pictures would remain private, but that's a social consequence for them to deal with.

When will we stop having conflicting sexual values?

Posted by: EmeraldEAD | December 10, 2008 3:30 PM | Report abuse

fr jezebel3:

>Is the rumor true that some wireless company employees have access to the photos?

No. We can see the numbers that were involved but not the contents.

Posted by: Alex511 | December 10, 2008 3:44 PM | Report abuse

"No. We can see the numbers that were involved but not the contents."

Umm, yeah, sure, go with that.

Under CALEA, the phone networks have to have the capability to record the contents for law enforcement when required under a court order (e.g., when you have a warrant to wiretap a midwestern Governor or something). But those capabilities are pretty tightly controlled, and Jane Average Employee won't see anything.

(And the penalties for violating those strictures are pretty severe. Witness the Verizon employees fired just for looking at Obama's call records. How much worse would it be if you looked at content?)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | December 10, 2008 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Spelling Police! Pronto!

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 10, 2008 3:23 PM

Hmmm, I don't see anything spelled wrong in the sentence you quoted?
What word(s) do you believe are misspelled?
Did you grab the wrong sentence?
Or were you just having a rectal-cranial inversion problem?

Posted by: SueMc | December 10, 2008 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Stories like this just prove to me why it is so important for parents to talk to their kids, especially teens, about sex. I have two teens myself and have talked to both of them about the value of sex, the danger in unprotected sex, having multiple partners, etc. I can only trust that they are making the right decisions, but at least they have the information. What helped me a ton was reading books by Meg Meeker, an expert on talking to kids about sex. The most recent book I read was Your Kids at Risk: How Teen Sex Threatens Our Sons and Daughters. It is really really helpful about what to say and when to say it.
I actually just stumbled across an article about talking to kids about sex that Meg Meeker wrote on the Huffington post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-meg-meeker/sex-why-we-hate-talking-a_b_148810.html

Good luck to all the parents out there!!

Posted by: SarahPan | December 11, 2008 9:03 AM | Report abuse

I'm surprised that there isn't at least one post about limiting your kid to nothing more than a basic cell phone, if at all. Then again, there are a lot of parents who are complete tools when it comes to setting boundaries for their kids.

Posted by: signof4 | December 11, 2008 9:18 AM | Report abuse

Limiting your kid to a basic cell phone doesn't solve the problem. It's like putting a bandaid on a bullet wound. Their friends will have camera phones, they may just use a digital camera and their computer, etc, etc. All you can do is talk to them and pray they aren't too stupid.

Posted by: atb2 | December 11, 2008 11:14 AM | Report abuse

fr ArmyBrat1:

>...Witness the Verizon employees fired just for looking at Obama's call records. How much worse would it be if you looked at content?)

Call RECORDS are one thing; being the number that was called. Contents of messages is completely different, and employees do NOT have access to them.

Posted by: Alex511 | December 11, 2008 1:02 PM | Report abuse

How do you stop it? Telling them that this may ruin their prospect of getting into college or getting a job is meaningless: Teenagers barely plan for 4:00 this afternoon, much less years down the road. Not that you shouldn’t tell them, you should just be aware that they probably won’t get the message and/or probably won’t care.

What works? Let them know that having a cell phone is a privilege, not a right, and it is one that can be revoked. If they are caught sending or sharing racy pictures or messages on their cell phones, they will lose their cell phone privileges. One strike. And if they raise the issue of safety, offer to get them one of those children's phones like the ones made by Firefly that only allow them to call numbers that you pre-program in. Get it in pink with butterflies.

Posted by: inkydog | December 11, 2008 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Thinking that removing the cellphone will solve the issue is like saying you can remove the lighter and they won't smoke cigarettes.

Of course to ME there's no problem with a teenager wanting to take pictures of their body and share it with someone they want. There might be a problem with thinking they can KEEP that private and learning the hard way just how unlikely that is, but adults make that mistake all the time also.

Posted by: EmeraldEAD | December 12, 2008 12:09 PM | Report abuse

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