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sexting scandals: a time to educate students on digital dangers


Recently, sexting scandals in schools have been prevalent in the news. In Colorado, at least 100 students at a high school traded naked pictures of themselves as part of a large sexting ring, authorities said. The act of sharing of these photos was possible due to cell phone applications called “vault apps” that hide photographs and make them accessible only after entering a password. In some instances, students were sharing photos while during school hours.

Just a week later, in New York, a sexting scandal at a Long Island high school led to the arrest of two 14-year-old students. The arrests came after a smartphone video that showed a sexual encounter between an underage boy and girl was spread. That boy, along with another 14-year-old male who allegedly filmed the off-campus incident, was arrested and charged with promoting a sexual performance by a child and disseminating indecent material to minors.

These stories might be shocking, but they’re truly a snapshot of daily teen life in the United States. According a survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 20 percent of teenagers have either sent or posted nude or seminude pictures or videos of themselves, while 48 percent admitted to having received sexually suggestive messages.

With that many students dabbling in what could be defined as sexting, and with news outlets sharing these stories so frequently, it’s a good time to have a talk about this topic with students. What should you cover in that discussion with your students?

Define sexting.

You’d be surprised at how young people’s opinions and knowledge of sexting vary. In a survey Impero researchers carried out on Facebook last year, some alarming facts were discovered. Of those questioned, 83 percent of young people ages 8 to 11 years old and 93 percent of young people aged 12 to 15 years old said that they knew how to be safe on the Internet. But 40 percent of those students did not consider topless images inappropriate.

Before delving into the details of the sexting topic, it is first imperative that the act is defined clearly — otherwise, students will have difficulties choosing what is appropriate and what is not appropriate content online. Students need to know what sexting is exactly.

According to Duhaime’s Law Dictionary, sexting is defined as “the sending of digital text messages containing suggestive, provocative or explicit sexual photographs.” In a precedent setting trial, Terry v State, juror Eric Latzer wrote, “Sexting occurs when someone sends, via text message or posts on the Internet, sexually charged messages or images, including nude or seminude pictures.” Last we checked, topless is the same as seminude.

Talk about the scandals.

As constant consumers of online information, it is likely that students will have already read or heard about recent sexting scandals. Opening the floor for discussion of these events can help students to get the facts straight and ask questions about things they don’t understand. Make sure to have news stories from reputable sources handy for reference when talking about what has happened. The conversation can then transition into the subjects below. This can be a good opportunity for a side topic of what is a reputable news source, as well!

Go over school policy.

Inevitably, students will want to know what their school’s policies are on sexting and Internet safety. Although acceptable use policies and Internet safety agreements were most likely sent out and signed by students at the beginning of the school year, they may not have really looked closely at what the rules are.

Explaining the policies in correlation to sexting will ensure there is no question as to what is tolerated at school. There will likely be discussion on privacy and freedom of speech, so be sure you are informed on the school’s stance on using personal smartphones in schools. This is extra important if your school has a BYOD program.

Talk about the law.

Sexting as it’s defined above may seem like a harmless flirtation for consenting adults. For teens, though, sexting can be against the law. The severity of a child’s action in terms of sexting is not always fully understood by both the children, parents or even law enforcement officials (as shown in the Colorado scandal), but all 50 states have some type of legal enforcement.

In most states, an minor caught with sexually explicit images on his or her phone is a criminal act. Depending on the state, the severity of the charges that could be assessed against a child can be sobering. In states that have not specifically addressed sexting, it is possible that the state will defer to its child pornography laws to address the action. This means that consequences could be as severe as felony charges and being listed as a registered sex offender.

To find out what the sexting laws are in each state, has put together a guide here.

Talk about vaulted apps and secrecy.

The applications that were used in the Colorado sexting scandal were vaulted apps; this means that the smartphone app hides photos behind a password. Sometimes, the app icon will look like a different function than what it really is — such as a calculator. When talking to students about these kinds of apps, it is important to explain to them that just because an app has the word “secret” or “vault” in it, that doesn’t always mean it’s secure.

According to CNET editor Dan Ackerman, “Once you let something out of your hands, whether it’s sending a text message or photo to someone, even if you have your copy locked away, the recipient could certainly share it or even take a screenshot and share it; you never know where your content is going to go.”

Communicate with parents.

It’s a well known fact that teens don’t necessarily tell their parents what they learned in school — especially embarrassing and controversial topics like sexting. When having conversations with students about Internet safety topics, it’s great to send an email or letter home to parents about what was discussed.

Parents may not even know what sexting is or what has been happening in the news. Communicate the issues that were gone over. Give parents tools to have good conversations and enforce safe Internet and smartphone usage at home. Notify them of the school’s policies, and give them contact numbers of school officials who can answer questions and provide support. After all, it takes a village to keep children safe.

Impero Education Pro classroom management software helps monitor student activity on school computer networks and helps ensure Internet safety in schools.

Impero Education Pro software provides schools with the ability to proactively monitor the online activities of digital devices while they are being used in classrooms. To find out more about this solution, go to the product features page here. Impero offers free trial product downloads, webinars, and consultations. Call us at 877.883.4370 or email us at [email protected] today for more information.


CBS This morning“Sexting is the new flirting” as teens turn to secretive apps State Sexting Laws

Fox NewsShowdown looms for parents, principal after school casts wide net in sexting scandal

The New York TimesHundreds of Nude Photos Jolt Colorado School

American Academy of Pediatrics Talking to Kids and Teens About Social Media and Sexting