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Oliver: ‘Sexting’ incidents offer teachable moment

Published: Tuesday, May 13, 2014 11:18 p.m. CDT

Two 14-year-old boys at Station Middle School in Barrington recently were charged with sharing sexually explicit photographs and video. The boys, police say, received photographs that they then redistributed to a group of classmates via cellphone text message.

In Batavia, a group of Rotolo Middle School students will not be facing criminal charges, despite what officials are calling a “sexting” incident in which the students sent photos of themselves through text messages. Those students were all between 11 and 14 years old, according to published reports.

Although troubling, these incidents hardly are surprising. After all, middle school and junior high school students have been doing dumb, ill-advised things for years.

It’s a time of transition from being “little kids” to adolescents.

All sorts of hormones start to kick in, as does a social awareness of the world. That, in turn, allows peer pressure and the desire to be “normal” to be so strong that even good kids can be coerced into pushing boundaries.

We adults probably remember those times with a wince or a chuckle, mainly because our own foibles never rose to the level of criminal charges.

And that’s the scary part about being a kid these days. The opportunities for those stupid acts of pre-adolescence to ruin one’s future are greater now than ever before.

The Internet and cellphones and the ability to send messages, photographs and videos to vast numbers of people mean that there’s real danger in an ill-advised “send.”

Actions bring consequences, and the consequence of “sexting,” and other social media missteps, can be felt when choosing a college, trying to get a job and maintaining a good reputation.

There even have been reports of suicides, after those who shared an intimate photograph with one person learned that the image had been disseminated to even more people.

That’s why parents should take these recent news reports as an opportunity to teach their children about the dangers of “sexting” and misuse of cellphones and social media.

That’s one of the suggestions from the National Crime Prevention Council (www.ncpc.org). Here are a few more:

• Encourage your child to think before sharing or posting personal information and pictures.

• If a child confesses to sending or forwarding explicit pictures, parents should remain calm, be supportive and take action. The child should be told to stop immediately and delete any such files.

• If a child’s photo is being forwarded without permission, parents should consider speaking with the child or the parents of the child who is forwarding the photos. If necessary, the situation should be reported to police or school administrators. 

• Get help if you suspect that your child has been a victim of sexting. Talk with victim service providers to get the right support for your child.

Open and honest communication between parents and children can head off many problems, in this area as well as many others.

Clearly, children need to understand that taking photographs of themselves that they wouldn’t want anyone to see is a bad idea. If those images don’t exist, they can’t be shared.

And parents have every right to look through their children’s cellphone and social media accounts. It’s not spying; it’s being a parent.

Being a kid definitely is scarier these days. 

Of course, that means it’s tougher to be a parent, too.

• Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at jolivercolumn@gmail.com.

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