There’s a familiar ding and a guy makes a grab for his cell phone. He opens it to find a suggestive photo of a half-naked girl. He laughs to himself and sends the racy picture to his friends, who will repeat the cycle.
While some may not be shocked at the practice, what may be shocking is that the average age of those swapping these sexual text messages is around 14.
“Sexting is becoming a very large problem in our high schools and even middle schools,” said Deputy Frank Navarro of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.
Nationally, about one in five teens admitted to participating in “sexting,” according to a nationwide survey by the National Campaign to Support Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
Out of a group of 41 local teens and young adults, 19 said they have sexted.
While some local teens were worried their pictures may end up online or spread around campus, most said they were not thinking about that possibility when sexting.
“A lot of people and kids don’t realize the consequences of snapping a picture and sending it to someone,” Navarro said. “That picture can easily be sent out to unintended recipients and end up on the Internet. Once it’s up online, it’s there forever for anyone to see.”
Vanessa Hudgens of Disney’s “High School Musical” found herself in a similar situation when a nude picture of her that was meant to remain private surfaced on the Internet. Pictures of Miley Cyrus in underwear have also been splashed all over cyberspace.
Of the teens surveyed, 60 percent of boys and 66 percent of girls said they sexted to be “fun or flirtatious,” according to the study.
In some cases, teens — especially young girls — will send a sexy picture of themselves to a boyfriend, Navarro recounted. Then when the relationship sours, the recipient will turn around and send out the pictures to other people. The person in the picture can then be made the center of ridicule and humiliation.
Some experts cite teens‘ and tweens‘ impulsive nature and lack of foresight as to why many juveniles make the decision to take and send racy photos. Others feel it may be peer pressure. While teens’ behaviors may not have changed m u c h ge n e rat i o n t o generation, what has changed, Navarro said, is the technology.
“I have no doubt that if they had cell phones with cameras when we were kids, we would’ve seen a lot of the same things then,” the deputy said.
Navarro is quick to point out consequences can go far beyond humiliation and a bad reputation. There could be criminal charges brought against the child.
There is currently one case in San Bernardino County where a 12-year old sixth-grader is facing possession of obscene materials charges. The girl took video and pictures of herself in the nude performing sexual acts and then sent it out to various people.
T h e re h ave b e e n cases across the country where other teens are facing child pornography charges, even when the pictures are of them.
Two Florida teens were convicted of producing and distributing child pornography when police learned the couple had taken nude pictures of themselves engaging in sexual behavior then sent them from the girl’s computer to the boy’s personal e-mail, officials said.
In 2007, an appeals court in Florida upheld their convictions.
Ju d ge P h i l i p Padovano, the only dissenting judge, wrote that the law “was designed to protect children from abuse by others, but it was used in this case to punish a child for her own mistake.”