‘They can’t take it back’

PIQUA — The Piqua Police department received a low turnout to a workshop held on internet safety, with the main focus being sexting after a recent nude photo leak involving area minors. Officer Jason Newton still provided lengthy information on risky online behavior, how inappropriate behavior online can lead to consequences offline, and what families can do.

During the highlight discussion of the evening, Newton used different studies that tried to reveal how many minors are sexting, or sending a sexually explicit text message, to show the importance of talking about the dangers of sexting with teens and tweens. A study from 2009 stated that 2.5 percent of teens have sexted and 7 percent of teens said that they have received a sext.

“Things change very quickly with technology,” Newton said.

A study from 2012 stated that a quarter of students had sexted, Newton said. Newton also brought up an anonymous online survey that claimed that 50 percent of students had sexted and 61 percent of them did not know that those pictures were considered child pornography.

“That means that the majority of kids are sending sexually explicit texts,” Newton said. “If they’re not doing it now, there’s a high likelihood that they would in the future.”

Newton showed what happens when someone simply searches the word “sexting” on Google. Instead of warnings not to do it, Google provides links to sites that provide tips on how to sext and how to send sexy messages.

“It’s not taboo anymore. It’s going to happen,” Newton said. “It’s in the mainstream. It’s the majority of kids.”

“Once they do send something out, they can’t take it back,” Newton said. Even if the image gets put up on a website and the website gets taken down, there was still time for people to download the image to personal computers.

“Mostly it’s to try to impress the person they’re sexting,” Newton said, explaining why teens and tweens are sexting. “To share with a boyfriend or girlfriend.”

Newton then shared a video of a girl deciding to send a sexually explicit image with a boy, who then shared the nude photo with his friends. The photo was continually shared until it reached the girl’s brother, the girl’s mother, and an adult stranger.

The consequences of sexting can lead to humiliation, bullying, blackmail, school discipline, and police involvement.

“You hear about it in the news every single day,” Newton said.

Newton also touched on cyberbullying and how sexting can lead to it. He shared another video of a girl sharing her story about how one nude image of her led to out of control bullying and cyberbullying, including physical fighting and people telling her to kill herself. In the video, she shared how she attempted suicide by drinking bleach. The name of the girl in the video was Amanda Todd.

“It just shows that kids can be ruthless,” Newton said. “It takes just one time.”

For recognizing if a child is victim of cyberbullying, some signs Newton mentioned included if the child:

  • Avoids the computer or cell phone or seems stressed or nervous when receiving a text or instant message
  • Withdraws from family and friends or acts reluctant to attend school and social events
  • Avoids conversations about computer use
  • Displays signs of low self-esteem including depression or fear
  • Has declining grades
  • Has poor eating or sleeping habits

Newton suggested that main thing that parents and families can do in that situation is talk to the school. Parents and families can also help the child block the cyber bullies and start new social media accounts with different friend lists.

The other tips for parents centered around paying attention to and being involved in their children’s lives.

For younger children, Newton said that parents do not want to frighten them but teach them appropriate “netiquette.”

“They’re going to need to know how to use it,” Newton said about the internet as it has become almost a necessity for everyday life. “You do need to let them know what the concerns are.”

Parents should teach them how to act online, not to trust everyone they may meet online, and what to do if they ever see any inappropriate content online. Parents were also encouraged to model good online behavior themselves.

“If they do see it, let them know it’s not their fault,” Newton said about inappropriate content. Parents should answer any questions that their children may have and also report the inappropriate content that they find.

For teens and tweens, parents should discuss expectations for how to behave online along with setting consequences for inappropriate online behavior, including inappropriate pictures and cyberbullying. Parents should also discuss the real-life consequences that can come with that kind of behavior, such as impacting future college and professional careers.

Newton also suggested talking about appropriate usernames for social media accounts. Parents were also encouraged to review comments and pictures posted online as well as talking about what their children’s friends are posting online. All of which can be done by staying alert and involved in their kids’ lives.

When it came to things that should not be posted online, Newton discussed threats of violence, hate speech, underage drinking or drug use, inappropriate or illegal behavior, offensive language, and more. Newton used the example of how Facebook is a tool for the police, pointing out that people will post about their illegal actions online.

“They like to brag about illegal behavior,” Newton said.

Newton then showed a video about a high school student losing his chance at an athletic scholarship for posting pictures online from a party, showing how it was a violation of athlete code of conduct.

“Once you put it out there, anyone can take it,” Newton said.

For more information, visit www.netsmartz.org.