A "massive" teen-sexting investigation spanning six Virginia counties is under way following the discovery of nude photographs of a 14-year-old and two 15-year-olds on Instagram.
The online buzz about the problem can be a way for parents everywhere to talk to their teens about using good judgment in their texts and on social media. Sexting – sharing inappropriate photos – can be classified as child pornography that is against the law, so it carries criminal risks as well as social and emotional harm for teens, say parenting experts.
WTVR-TV reports that investigators have uncovered more than 1,000 sexually explicit photos being shared on two Instagram accounts involving more than 100 teens. So far, Albemarle, Fluvanna, Orange, Goochland, and Hanover counties are involved, but the investigation is continuing.
Investigators have seized nearly 24 cellphones in the investigation, the station reported.
How do you monitor the texts your teens send? Do you check their phones to see what conversations they’ve had? And, how do you talk with your teens about what is appropriate and what isn’t?
Share your ideas in comments, below.
While some states have enacted criminal laws specifically against sexting, Maryland has not. In Maryland, teens who engage in sexting can be prosecuted and punished for child pornography and related crimes.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says about 20 percent of teen boys and girls have sent “sexting” messages. Here are some of their tips for how to talk with your children:
- Talk to your kids, even if the issue hasn’t directly affected your community. “Have you heard of sexting?” “Tell me what you think it is.
- Use examples appropriate for your child’s age. For teens, be specific that “sexting” often involves pictures of a sexual nature and is considered pornography.
- Make sure kids of all ages understand that sexting is serious and considered a crime in many jurisdictions. There will be serious consequences, quite possibly involving the police, suspension from school, and notes on the sexter’s permanent record that could hurt their chances of getting into college or getting a job.
- Experts say peer pressure can play a major role in the sending of texts, with parties being a major contributing factor. Collecting cell phones at gatherings of tweens and teens is one way to reduce this temptation.
- Monitor the news for stories about “sexting” that illustrate the consequences for both senders and receivers of these images. “Have you seen this story?” “What did you think about it?” “What would you do if you were this child?” Rehearse ways they can respond if asked to participate in inappropriate texting.
Patch Editor Todd Richissin contributed to this story.