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News

Teenagers and Cell Phone 'Sexting'

Published Monday, April 12, 2010

A troubling trend among teenagers and their cell phones has emerged here in Gainesville-Hall County as well as other areas across the country. And we're not talking about teens staying up too late at night talking on their phones or running up excessive charges on their parents' cell phone bills.

 

"Sexting" involves young people sending out inappropriate photos of themselves and others over the cell phone. It is an issue that parents definitely need to be aware of in this community, in local school systems, and especially at home with their own children. Mark Alexander, a personal injury attorney with the Gainesville, Ga. law firm Stewart Melvin & Frost, and Hall County Solicitor General Stephanie Woodard discuss the topic of "sexting."

Question: How prevalent is "sexting"?

 

Mark: I was recently involved with a youth leadership program in which we educate and inform young people about our legal system. Stephanie participated in this program along with me and a portion of her presentation focused on the troubling trend of "sexting" among teenagers. She has been involved with numerous court cases involving teenagers sending sexually explicit photos of themselves to their boyfriend or girlfriend. It may be a little embarrassing to talk about, but we can't ignore what is happening out there.

 

Stephanie: The problem is most prevalent in local high schools. For example, a teenage girl takes a photo of herself undressed, and sends it over her cell phone to her boyfriend, who in turn forwards it out to 20 of his friends.

 

Teens are na´ve. They don't understand potential consequences. They don't understand that once their "private" photo is sent out over a cell phone or through the Internet, it has the potential to be seen anywhere and by anyone.

 

Some teens think "sexting" is cool. In some cases, they start off playing around on their Facebook or MySpace pages, posting these suggestive and "avant-garde" photos of themselves. Then they decide to take it a bit farther by "sexting" more explicit photos to someone over their cell phone.

 

Teens may think "sexting" is cool or funny, but this behavior can have very serious and lifelong consequences. A teen can be charged with distribution of child pornography even if the teen sends out his or her own personal photos. In addition to facing a felony offense, there can be lifelong consequences. Once the "sexting" photo leaves the cell phone, it can never be erased. It's out on the Internet forever.

 

One teen's momentary, impulsive decision to send out an explicit photo of themselves could haunt them and follow them the rest of their life - it could come up in a future job interview and prevent you from getting hired. It could resurface years later to strain a marriage. Or it could attract the attention of a sexual predator.

Question: How and why has the trend of "sexting" become so prevalent among teens today? What is driving it?

 

Stephanie: First, irrational thinking and impulsive decisions by young people is nothing new. It's the proliferation of today's technology - cell phones, laptops, and webcams - in the hands of these teenagers that has led to this problem.

 

Before cell phones and other forms of fast-paced technology, life was much slower. In the old days, a teenager might have taken a photo of herself undressed, but then it took several days for the film to be developed - enough time for her to think twice about her decision, or even to possibly have her film screened and banned by the photo processing store.

 

But today, cell phones and webcams allow instantaneous photos - and that's very dangerous in the hands of an impulsive teenager.

 

Question: All of this information is good advice and a warning for teenagers. What advice do you have for parents?

 

Stephanie: At the Middle School level, the best advice is not to allow your child to have a cell phone. Also, do not allow them to use a web-cam or surf the Internet without your knowledge and supervision.

 

At the High School level, cell phones are almost inevitable and perceived by most as a necessity these days - but at least try to provide a cell phone without a camera. As a parent, make it a regular habit to go through the memory card on your teen's cell phone and digital camera.

 

Most importantly, be open and talk to your teenage children about "sexting" - and how it can have criminal implications with irreparable lifetime consequences.

 

The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.