WAYLAND, Mich. – By now, most of us have heard of sexting – sending or receiving lewd photos through text messages. It can be risky for anyone – especially teens, because if the person in the photo is under 18 years old, that’s considered child pornography.
Michigan State Trooper Kellie Summerhays says sexting is more common than we may think. And in this ever-evolving world of social media, it’s tough for parents to stay on top of their teen’s computer, phone, and tablet.
“There’s a lot of pressures put on by other kids. (Kids say) ‘I want you to send me a picture of this body part.”‘
But sexting is not just nude photos.
“(A sext can be) erotic nudity – clothed or unclothed, real or simulated inappropriate touching, or real or simulated inappropriate sexual acts,” explains Summerhays, who presents social media seminars for parents.
So even a seemingly silly photo with a hint of sexual nature is considered child pornography if the participants are under 18 years old.
Creating or possessing child pornography is a felony. Even if your teen is not in the lewd photo, if they simply ask another person under 18 for a racy photo, they could be soliciting child pornography – also a felony.
“We see a lot of kids that do get in trouble; they are good kids and they just make bad decisions,” Summerhays says, adding that a typical teen is on five different social media sites, many their parents have never heard of.
“There’s a lot of kids that are getting into chat rooms that are listed as 17 and under,” Summerhays says. “They’re connecting with strangers, and I think they’re trusting that the people on the other end are 17 and under.”
I went to paltalk.com, a chat room site Summerhays has seen a lot lately. I did not have to give my age or my name, just a nickname, and I was in an ‘Under 17’ chat room. Within thirty seconds, I had four instant messages from “boys” wanting to talk to me privately. It just goes to show you never know who you’re actually chatting with online.
“(Teens will) meet these people in the chat rooms … they can give these people their (phone) numbers so they can correspond a little bit more privately.”
A popular choice for private correspondence? Snapchat – a mobile app allowing users to send a photo to another user, but the photo self-destructs in three to 10 seconds.
That’s the idea, but there are easy ways around it.
I sent a photo to our FOX 17 director who has an application on his phone that takes screenshots. Within minutes my Snapchat photo is on Facebook, in my text messages, and emailed to the entire newsroom.
Trooper Summerhays says it doesn’t end there.
“We’re seeing situations where (one photo is) evolving into bullying or harassing, because now some of the other students in the school might be calling (the sender) names, or basically (the sender’s) reputation has been ruined.”
Trooper Summerhays urges parents to check out online forums like netsmartz411.org where parents can ask questions and get more information on social media applications their kids are using.
Teen Sexting Stats from Michigan State Police:
* One in 5 teens have engaged in sexting.
* Over a third know of a friend who has sent or received a sext message.
* One in 10 sexters has sent these messages to people he or she doesn’t know.
* Almost all teens surveyed think it’s dangerous to sext, including those who engaged in it.
* Half of teens think that adults overreact about sexting.
* 71 percent of teen girls have sent or posted this content to a boyfriend or girlfriend.
* 51 percent of teen girls say they do it because of pressure from a guy.
* 66 percent of teen girls and 60 percent of teen boys do it to be “fun or flirtatious.”
* 44 percent of teen girls and boys say they did it in response to content they received.
* 44 percent of teen girls say it is common for these images to be shared with people not intended to see it.
* 38 percent say that “exchanging sexually suggestive content makes dating or hooking up with others more likely.”
* 29 percent of teens say that exchanging explicit content makes them feel “expected” to date or hook up.