Polk students warned about dangers of ‘sexting’

Published 3:07 pm Friday, August 7, 2009

In a presentation to Polk County commissioners Monday night, Reid explained how sexting, an adaptation of the word &dquo;texting,&dquo; has spread to everywhere cell phones are used, including Polk County.

Polk County commissioner Tommy Melton, who requested the item be added to the county board&39;s agenda, called it an &uot;epidemic all over the world.&uot;

According to a study by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl.com, 20 percent of teens (ages 13-19) have electronically sent, or posted online, nude or semi-nude pictures or video of themselves.

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Most said they sent sexually suggestive messages or images to a boyfriend/girlfriend. However, as Reid noted, they can&squo;t be sure those images will not be shared with others or accessed by predators.

The same national study found that 33 percent of teen boys and 25 percent of teen girls said someone shared with them&bsp; nude or semi-nude images that were originally meant for someone else.

&dquo;Once you release the info on the Internet, you can&squo;t get it back,&dquo; said Reid.

Polk County Sheriff&squo;s Office Sgt. Tonya Lindsey shared an example of how sexting led to problems for two young Polk County residents. She says a young lady sent a picture of her bare chest to her 17-year-old boyfriend who then showed it to somebody else.

&dquo;She then tried to say he raped her. It elevates anger,&dquo; said Lindsey, who added that she mediated the dispute between the couple. &dquo;They could have ruined each other&squo;s lives over a picture.&dquo;

Lindsey says sexting is considered &dquo;child porn&dquo; under federal law and is illegal. She added that in North Carolina, there are a variety of related charges that can range from misdemeanor to felony, and she has been advised by the district attorney&squo;s office, that charges are decided on a case-by-case basis.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy offers five tips to help parents talk to their kids about sex and technology.

&ull; Talk to your kids about what they are doing in cyberspace.

&ull; Know who your kids are communicating with.

&ull; Consider limitations on electronic communication.

&ull; Be aware of what your teens are posting publicly.

&ull; Set expectations. Make sure you are clear with your teen about what you consider appropriate &dquo;electronic&dquo; behavior.

Polk County High School Assistant Principal Mary Feagan says school officials also warn students about the dangers of sexting. Although the school cannot control what students do during non-school hours, it does have restrictions during school. Students are not permitted to use their cell phones during school hours.

Polk County Middle School Principal Hank Utz says there have been some isolated incidents related to &dquo;sexting&dquo; at this school, and he intends to remind students this year about the dangers associated with it.

&dquo;I don&squo;t think they really realize the whole world could see it potentially,&dquo; says Utz.

He says such incidents usually would not occur during school, but they have ramifications in school because they involve students and &dquo;everybody hears about it.&dquo;

He adds that, thankfully, there are very few sexting incidents in Polk County compared to some other places &dquo;just because of the nature of where we live.&dquo;