"When I was a sophomore, this senior guy asked me for my cell number. I thought it was so cool, until he randomly texts me and asks me to send him nude pictures of myself," says Gina, a Denver area high school student. "I told him I wasn't interested, and then he texted me again. I finally told him to delete my number. Thank goodness he stopped texting."
Gina, not her real name, says "there are people at my school who are sexting and asking people for photos. But it seems like when there's a break-up and the guy has photos of the girl (usually the way it is), that's when the trouble starts and those photos get sent to a bunch of people." Other teenagers tell me that if high schoolers are dating, the likelihood that they're sexting is pretty high, but "hey, I wouldn't do it because what if we broke up or something?"
In every Denver area middle and high school, administrators are facing new challenges with kids and their phones. What does the law have to say? "If the photo, video or text is about someone under the age of 18, it could be considered child pornography."
Sexting is sending and receiving sexually explicit material with a cell phone. In Colorado, here's what middle and high school teenagers and/or adults could be facing according to Scott Storey, District Attorney with the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
Under the Colorado Revised Statues (C.R.S), a juvenile could be charged with Sexual Exploitation of a Child under section 18-6-403(3)(a), a class 3 felony if committed by an adult, or Sexual Exploitation of a Child under section 18-6-403(3)(b.5), a class 6 felony if committed by an adult. Sexual Exploitation of a Child is a sexual offense and registration as a sex offender is required by Colorado law.
So what's a parent to do? Gina says her parents don't check her phone, because she hasn't given them a reason to check it, "but if they caught me sneaking out, I'm sure they'd go through my phone. "
What if she got a sext? "Well, I'd tell my parents. I've heard that I shouldn't delete it, so that I can prove I got it. But whatever I did, I wouldn't send it. Not reporting it, though, could get me into trouble, so I would show it to my parents."
Gina's response is right along the lines of the kind of interaction D.A. Storey encourages with parents and teens. He wants parents to talk to their kids about sex and technology. And for middle and high school students, here are five things he'd like them to think about before pressing send on their phones:
1. Don’t assume that anything you send or post is going to remain private. Your messages and images will get passed around, even if you think they won’t. Forty percent of teens and young adults say they have had a sexually suggestive message (originally meant to be private) shown to them and 20% say they have shared such a message with someone other than the person for whom it was originally meant.
2. You can’t change your mind once you send or post a photo in cyberspace. Those photos may never go away. Something that seems fun and flirty and is done on a whim can never really be retracted. Potential employers, college recruiters, teachers, coaches, parents, friends, enemies, strangers and others may all be able to find your past posts, even after you delete them. It is nearly impossible to control what other people are posting about you.
3. Don’t give in to the pressure to do something that makes you uncomfortable, even in cyberspace. More than 40% of all teens and young adults say that pressure from guys is a reason that girls and young women send and post sexually suggestive messages and images. More than 20% of all teens and young adults say “pressure from friends” is a reason that guys send and post sexually suggestive messages and images.
4. Consider the recipient’s reaction. Just because a message is meant to be fun it doesn’t mean the person who gets it will see it that way. Four in ten teen girls who have sent sexually suggestive content say they did so as a joke, but many teen boys (29%) agree that girls who send such content are “expected to date or hook up in real life.”
5. Nothing is truly anonymous. Nearly one in five young people who send sexually suggestive messages and images send them to people that they only know online (18% total). It is important to remember that even if someone only knows you by screen name, online profile, phone number or email address they can probably find you if they try hard enough.
There is a silver lining in all this. As much as our kids are more comfortable than we ever were to post details of their lives online, they are also seeing the repercussions of over-sharing.
"A few years ago, I would give my cell number to just about anyone who asked, but not anymore," says Gina emphatically, "I mean, ever since that guy tried to get me to send those photos, I realized only the people I know get my number."
Living Through It as a parent of teens is challenging enough. So my question to you: Have you had the sexting talk yet?
Lois’ Living Through It blogs are posted on Mondays and Thursdays. Join her Monday mornings around 8:45am on Good Day Colorado.