A Sexting Horror Story

Read this link with your preteen—now

Saturday’s New York Times contained a truly scary cautionary tale about a couple of eighth-graders in Washington State who got caught up in a whirlwind of scandal after Margarite, a 14-year-old girl, sexted a naked photo of herself to Isaiah, a 14-year-old boy she liked. When their romance soured after a few weeks, Isaiah passed the photo on to a former friend of Margarite’s, and from there, it went viral.

Margarite ended up transferring to a different school. Three students at her original school were charged with disseminating child pornography. Isaiah spent a night in jail. “I didn’t know it was against the law” to share Margarite’s photo, he told the Times. A simple, thoughtless decision wound up involving the cops, school administrators, lawyers, teachers, and “hundreds of families.”

If you think there’s no way your kid would ever participate in something so stupid as sexting, think again. In a recent AP/MTV poll, a quarter of respondents ages 14 to 17 said they’d been involved in sending nude photos; in another poll, by the Pew Research Center, five percent of 14-to-17-year-olds admitted to sending naked pics of themselves, and 18 percent to having received them. (Hmm, those numbers don’t quite add up.) And the Pew poll showed girls are just as likely to send such photos as boys.

It’s especially vital to share this horror story because the laws aren’t set up to deal leniently with kids being, well, kids. Child porn laws are strict, and they usually don’t take into account the age of the perp. A thoughtless click-and-send can have consequences far beyond anything your teen or you can imagine.

Technology has a cat-out-of-the-bag aspect to it; once kids figure out they can send naked photos of themselves, there’s a real chance they will—even good kids. Because when you’re 15, as Taylor Swift says, when someone tells you they love you, you’re gonna believe them. That’s what’s so wonderful—and so dangerous—about being 15.

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