Sexting: Kids are atwitter about it, but it’s dangerous

The earlier blog entry on “Porn and Pizza”  led to several comments about the problems in schools of “sexting.”  Here is  information released today about the growing practice from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Two years ago, the word “sexting” did not even exist in the English language.  Today it is a term that is much discussed and debated by parents, students, educators, law enforcement leaders and policymakers.  “Sexting” refers to youth sending sexually explicit messages or sexually explicit photos of themselves or others to their peers.  Today, many teens are using cell phones, computers, web cams, digital cameras, and/or certain video game systems to take and distribute sexually explicit photographs of themselves or others.

Is “sexting” merely an example of “kids being kids,” or is it a more serious societal concern that in some cases requires criminal sanctions?  In an effort to provide a better framework for policy discussion and to better inform the public, today the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is releasing a policy statement on “sexting.”  This statement is a product of extensive dialogue with leaders in the field, and was developed with the strong involvement of the American Bar Association’s Center on Children and the Law.

“There has been much concern that teens engaged in ‘sexting’ would be criminally prosecuted and required to register as sex offenders,” said Ernie Allen, President of NCMEC.  “That isn’t happening. Yet, ‘sexting’ is a large problem that we have to come to grips with as a nation.  Some of these incidents are minor.  Some are very serious.  Through this new policy statement on ‘sexting,’ we hope to provide greater understanding and perspective as we strive to cope more effectively with this difficult new phenomenon.”

“Sexting” is a complex issue that covers a wide range of severity.  NCMEC believes that the primary response to “sexting” must be positive, empowering educational messages directed to parents and teens.  Parents must become more involved in their children’s lives, be more aware of what they are doing, and set limits.  Teens must become better informed about the implications and repercussions of their acts.

Two years ago, before the word “sexting” was invented, NCMEC launched a public service advertising campaign in partnership with the Ad Council.  The message was “Think Before You Post.”  The campaign sought to alert teens to the risks associated with “sexting” and other online communications.  Once the images are out there, you can’t get them back.  They can affect a teen’s future, impact his or her ability to be admitted to college, be hired for jobs, and much more.

Yet, NCMEC also believes that in some instances, “sexting” entails serious criminal acts requiring investigation by law enforcement and action by authorities.

A survey conducted for NCMEC by Cox Communications and released in June 2009 found that 19 percent of teens surveyed had sent, received, or forwarded sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude photos through text message or e-mail.  Of the teens surveyed who had engaged in “sexting,” 60 percent sent the photos to a boyfriend/girlfriend and 11 percent  sent them to someone they did not know.

NCMEC knows about “sexting” firsthand.  NCMEC’s Child Victim Identification Program has reviewed and analyzed 27 million child pornography images and videos since 2003, 9 million in the past year alone.  Of the children successfully identified and rescued, 10 percent of the images were self-produced.  Another 14 percent were produced as a result of online enticement by another party who persuaded or extorted youth into taking and sending explicit photos.

A copy of the new Policy Statement on Sexting issued by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children can be found on the organization’s web site.

Additional resources for parents include:  Safety tips for cell phone use .

14 comments Add your comment


September 22nd, 2009
2:11 pm

sending images of yourself to others is just plain stupid. Pictures unfortunately are forever and can be passed along to many many thousands of people. Criminal, I don’t know, Stupid, yes. Images that last forever can have a multitude of unforeseen consequences years from now. This phenomenon is much worse than “kids just being kids”. Not necessarily because of the content, but because of the medium on which it can be transmitted. The messages that the kids are sending each other are most likely no worse than the notes I used to send and receive from my then girlfriend(s) but those notes aren’t around any more. (I hope) and there was no photographic evidence.(once again I hope ;-)

Spy Parent

September 22nd, 2009
4:01 pm

Go to They have cell phone devices that will allow you monitor your kid’s texts and images. You cant stop sexting if you are unaware that it exist.


September 23rd, 2009
6:11 pm

NCMEC President Ernie Allen said children are not being criminally prosecuted for sexting. That is not the truth! They are also being labeled as sexual offenders for sexting! He is not being truthful. Why don’t you standup for the kids and ask Lawmakers to change the laws for juveniles and sexting. You are either the most poorly informed person in the world or don’t want to offend prosecutors who are charging thousands of kids for sexting. This article is a joke.


September 24th, 2009
8:50 am

RE: comment by ncmec-bs

Actually NCMEC is not BSing. As of right now, no minors have been forced to register as sex offenders. There are only 2 young people who have been convicted and registered, and they are NOT minors. They are both over the age of 18. Most cases against minors end in plea deals with punishments like community service. Perhaps you should get the facts straight before calling BS.


September 24th, 2009
6:10 pm

RE:comments by Natalie
Here is the quote, ” There has been much concern that teens engaged in ’sexting’ would be criminally prosecuted and required to register as sex offenders,” said Ernie Allen President of NCMEC, “That isn’t happening.” IT IS HAPPENING!! Everyday in the US juveniles (under 18) are being charged with felony criminal offenses for sexting. Yes, they will probably plea bargin to receive a lighter punishment, but it is still a FELONY SEXUAL OFFENSE. Because it is classified as a sexual offense they take the childs DNA and keep it on file forever. When Mr Allen said they don’t have to register as a sex offender, he means they are not on a public list, at least not at this time. However, some want anyone convicted of a “sex crime” to have that info made public. These laws for juveniles and sexting need to be changed. These kids are not predators nor are they criminals, they are just stupid kids. Adults who should be protecting our children are doing some serious harm by not standing up and seeking the REAL TRUTH about what is happening to our kids. Do you believe 20% of our teens are felony sex offenders? They are under our current laws!!!


September 25th, 2009
12:27 am

My son is 14. A 14 yr old girl sent him 10 topless photos of her. He sent them to 5 friends. Now the school is threatening to expel him from the district. He did not do this at school. They told him her parents are pressing charges. He needs to accept responsibility, but what about her. I dont understand how they can put him into juvie and label him a sex offender and felon. Please let me know what to expect. This just happened today.


September 25th, 2009
2:52 pm

To: Elizabeth

Contact an attorney NOW. Do not talk to the police or ANYONE about this until you have talked to your attorney. Also do not allow your son to speak with ANYONE (school personnel too) about this until your attorney says it’s OK. Not to alarm you but these charges can do alot of harm to your son. If you can not afford an attorney seek legal aid quickly.

Old School

September 27th, 2009
2:49 pm

Kids should be allowed to bring three pieces of equipment to school: pencil, paper, books…everything else should be confiscated; returned at the termination of the school year.

Someone’s going to cry, “you can’t do that”, or attribute these problems to “this day and age”. What the hey is going on here…are we afraid of kids so much that parents become friends, teachers become babysitters, and the whole education system becomes nothing more than a period of time during which the only requirement placed on the kid is “be nice”. If you people, the education elite, continue to treat these issues on a piecemeal basis, YOU WILL FAIL…more importantly, the kids, what we blithfully refer to as the future, will fail, and it will be YOUR FAILT! Never mind that stuff about the importance of the family…YOU DRIVE THE TRAIN. True, family influence is important, but at day’s end, the ball’s in YOUR court. A recent story about a homeless girl, with a drug-addicted mom, who was accepted into Harvard, highlights one point…the learning environment (translate that to mean school…YOUR RESPONSIBILITY) is THE key. I don’t know about you, but if I was Mr. Purdue, I’d issue this: “Get the job done, or I’ll find someone who can”. Mr. Purdue, that goes for you to!

Spy Parent

September 29th, 2009
1:27 am

To Elizabeth:

A good attorney will be able to assist your son. Most DAs are not out to ruin kids lives. It is important for you to come up with a supervision plan to present to the court on how you will supervise and monitor this situation in the future.

David S

April 22nd, 2010
11:54 am

God lets hope nobody uses any common sense in this. That would screw up the whole “control the population and throw everyone in jail for everything” plan.

You Asked

April 22nd, 2010
11:59 am

My kids have been taught to use all electronic media and messages like they were a Public Relations firm. Write or send nothing that can be used against you. They have been very well behaved (I have access to their Facebook and phone accounts)

Even then at a girls slumber party a friend (girl) took a cameraphone picture of my daughter in a T-shirt and underwear – nothing pornographic but somewhat private. She then took the photo and used it to “sext” a couple of boys while pretending that my daughters picture was her.

One of the boys recognized my daughter and contacted her about it (knowing that the messages were not characteristic of her morals and behavior).

Needless to say the “friend” is no longer a friend, but it is scary how easily these images can be captured and used.

Teach me!

April 22nd, 2010
12:34 pm

Unless the pics were taken at school and sexted out during school, how can a school expel/discipline? Are the things students do off-campus now part of the discipline/behavior plan? I know for student-athletes, they can be held liable and maybe other students in leadership positions. But since when do schools decide punishment over parents or police? So, now what students do off-campus is a direct reflection of a school and they feel the need to get involved?
So, if two students fight at the mall, are the schools involved? The list could go on and on…
Sexting is wrong; but the pics and sexting take place off-campus/off-hours are not school’s responsbility. It is the parents. Parents are being let off the hook when schools intervene. Yet another problem with our students today: lack of parent support/discipline.


April 22nd, 2010
1:50 pm

When we got our kids cell phones, we made sure that they could only be used for phone calls and text. Their phones have no internet access and cannot send or recieve pictures. ATT gives you the option of having it set up this way. As for sexting, as parents we have to educate ourselves and our kids about the dangers of this, and all new forms of communicating, and let them know that there are consequences to these types of things. It seems it was much less complicated when you actually had to pick up the phone and talk to girls, usually within earshot of an adult.


April 22nd, 2010
2:09 pm

I too think that if it happens away from the school the school should not be responsible or do any type of discipline. However, I think some of the parents would be surprised at how many times a parent will bring to school something that happened in the neighborhood and demand that they school take action.