‘Sexting’ on the #rise among #teens


FARMINGTON—In the old days kids went behind the barn to look at porn magazines. Nowadays, it’s right in their hands anytime day or night, and some teens are using their smartphones to create their own pornography by sending inappropriate photos to each other known as “sexting.”

“It’s the number one issue that we deal with in the student and family resources department at the district,” said Chris Williams, director of Communications & Operations for Davis School District. “It used to be substance abuse but now it’s sexting by far.”

In light of the growing problem, the district sent out a letter to parents right before winter break warning them of the dangers of misusing smartphones and encouraging them to talk with their children.

“We’re trying to focus on the idea of what you were told when you were a kid and caught on fire – stop, drop and roll,” said Williams. “We’re going to ask students to no, go and show. Say ‘no’ and set clear boundaries. Someone might say ‘hey beautiful let me see some pictures.’ It might be an innocuous request but to teens they think nude.”

Go means to leave the conversation and go find a trusted adult, he said. “Kids get the message and there’s peer pressure to give up pictures, they might be ostracized if they don’t. Show the message or video to a trusted adult. They have more experience in life than a junior high or high school student has.”

However, often parents don’t believe their child could be involved in such behaviors. “The biggest issue is that parents don’t think it can happen to them, especially their daughters,” said an undercover agent with the Davis County Attorney’s Office who investigates such crimes. “They just avoid the subject. I was at a school after the district’s letter went out and I asked who had talked about it with their parents and not a single hand went up. Parents are not following through.”

The agent recommends that parents look at their children’s phones on a regular basis. “Check their activity,” he said. “There should never be a reason for them to take their phone into the bathroom or even their bedroom. That’s where most of this is taking place. It’s not just sexting, but kids are getting into porn and are exposed so young that it becomes second nature to send a picture. They think it’s not doing any harm until they get extorted.”

Williams said they’ve heard rumors that students have shared inappropriate pictures so they approach the students involved. “We look at their smartphone and find all sorts of inappropriate messages, videos and pictures,” he said. “We know of situations where students have been extorted by other students or adults for money. It depends on how deep they get into this. Pornography distribution is a crime. Just possessing it is a crime.”

Although it is illegal, typically if kids are sending the photos to other kids, the agent said they try not to involve them in criminal proceedings. “We still have to deal with it but we don’t want to jam up the kids – we want to get them help,” he said. “We’re trying to teach them that they shouldn’t be doing it.”

Parents may not realize they can put controls on their child’s phone, Williams said. “They can limit access to Wi-Fi and change the settings so that this stuff is not so accessible. If your kid wants to download an app he has to get a code from his parent. We’re trying to give parents the tools they need to set parameters.”

Williams said parents should be aware of the amount of time their children are spending on their phones. “It’s like TV, how much time are they spending on this activity?” he said. “Parents give their kids access to the Internet without boundaries and that is very dangerous. If I eat chocolate cake all day that’s not good. We need boundaries in all aspects of our life. The Internet is good but students can easily get involved in an activity that they don’t know how to get out of.”

Anything with messaging capability can pose a potential problem, the agent said. “Facebook, Instagram, if you can communicate through it somebody will be there to go after kids,” he said. “Predators are chatting with kids over online gaming sites at a pretty young age so make sure you know who your kids are talking to on the other end.”

Open communication between parents and kids is vital. “If kids know their parents are checking their phone and then having a talk with them they’ll (kids) feel comfortable talking about it,” the agent said. “The hard thing for parents is not to overreact so that their kids will talk. If they come to you and say, ‘I made a mistake and sent some naked pictures,’ don’t freak out. Work through it.”

The district plans to send out more information in the coming months to assist parents in dealing with the problem. “We’re not just talking about a handful of schools, it’s across the board all over not just in Davis County,” Williams said. “Kids make mistakes, adults make mistakes. That doesn’t mean they have to be punished for the rest of their lives.”

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