PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - "Sexting and cyber-bullying is critical, shaming, embarrassing," said Doctor Myles Cooley, a Palm Beach County child psychologist. Cooley hears the horror stories from teenagers about just how crushing sexting can be. "Even though the incident is over, other kids still react to them in a different way. And it just doesn't leave them," he said.
A recent study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy found 20% of teens polled had electronically sent, or posted online, X-rated pictures or video of themselves. The images are often intended for a girlfriend or boyfriend, but can end up being shared; sent from person to person, phone to phone and preserved forever in cyberspace.
Parents, schools, and now lawmakers and law enforcement are grappling with how to deal with kids and the trend of sexting. "Who is the more culpable? Is it the person who sent the picture in the first place? Or is it the person who rebroadcasts it to a third party?" said Palm Beach State Attorney Michael McAuliffe.
For years, the state has viewed everyone in these cases as an adult. Recently Florida legislators voted on bills that aim to catch up with technology. They have passed a measure reducing penalties for minors caught sexting. A change in law, though, may not combat the problem.
Sexting has happened right in front of 7th grader Matt Wilson; right under the noses of his teachers. "When you post to someone else, they can post straight to Facebook, Google and millions of people can view this," said Wilson. School districts are trying to stay on top of sexting by rewriting district codes of conduct to outlaw the use of cell phones at school altogether. Despite the effort, teens are still getting themselves into trouble.
"You don't want a situation to ripen and be so extreme that it gets to my office for evaluation," said McAuliffe. He said he takes age into account in every sexting case. "It lasts forever, it has an indefinite life, and it's independent of the person who sends it," said McAuliffe.
For information on warning signs about sexting and cyber-bullying, click on the links below:
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