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Carli Leavitt is a public relations specialist and avid blogger who is passionate about the safety of children in the digital age. Follow her on Twitter @CarliLeavitt
Jun 17, 2016
In the digital age where smartphones that have apps like Snapchat, Instagram, Kik, and countless other social media platforms, children have access to unlimited interaction with their peers. While in ways this may be a good thing that helps promote friendships and increase tech savviness in the younger generations, in other ways it can be downright dangerous.
Cyberbullying is the most common issue we hear about on the news, but one form that isn't as regularly discussed is consensual "sexting". While exploring sexuality can be part of the growing up process, sexting and bullying has become a serious problem with life-altering repercussions for both victims and perpetrators. Sending or receiving a text of someone who is underage, has resulted in victims feeling extreme shame and some even committing suicide, as well as serious criminal charges against children for possession or distribution of child pornography.
Children as young as 14 have been charged with sex crimes after receiving a sext from an underage person and then sharing that with friends, or in some cases using that explicit photo to bully or manipulate the person who sent it. In one case in North Carolina, a 17-year-old was caught with sexual photos of his girlfriend and faced both felony charges and sex offender registration. Even though the photos were supposedly consensual, it is illegal in the state for anyone under 18 to send or receive sexually explicit photos. In another case, an 18-year-old was charged with 72 sex offenses after sending semi-nude photos of his then 16-year-old girlfriend to all of her phone contacts. This case of sexting and bullying resulted in him being kicked out of school, serving three years of probation, and registering as a sex offender until he was 43.
Some people believe the punishment doesn't fit the crime in these consensual sexting cases, especially when it includes registering an underage person as a sex offender. But, in the sad situations that have resulted in severe shame and even suicide for some of the victims, it's clear something has to be done and these cases can't be taken lightly.
While the laws are still catching up to advances in technology, it's essential that parents take the time to talk to their kids about the dangers of sexting. All children need to know how easy it is for an explicit photo to get into the wrong hands and how quickly it can be spread across the internet. Even on apps like Snapchat, where many feel it's safe because the photo deletes after a few seconds, it's easy to take a screenshot and then send that to an entire group of people with the simple press of a button. The more our kids know about the dangers of sexting and posting photos at a young age, the better able they are to make good decisions. There are also a lot of great tools available to help protect your children from online predators and bullying. Parental control software like Net Nanny® provides solutions to make sure your kids are safe on the Internet.