Sextortion. Teens blackmailing other teens for what they do online with less than flattering photos.
Broward County is not foreign to text rage, as we saw in the Josie Ratley beating. Or is it stranger to bullying, as we witnessed when 15 year-old Michael Brewer was nearly burned to death. Now we are dealing with teens blackmailing each other to protect themselves from humiliation.
What can you do? Talk to your kids about this now. This is even more reason for them not to be passing photos of any kind virtually. Knowing pictures can be manipulated and photo cropped into some very unflattering pictures, is a fact your teens need to not only recognize, but understand the consequences.
Communication is key to prevention - talk, talk, talk and don't stop.
Teens can be more vulnerable to blackmail because they're easy to intimidate and embarrassed to seek help, this is even more reason for parents to open the lines of communication now.
Tips to prevent sexting that can lead to sextortion:
Don't take or send nude or sexually suggestive photos of yourself or anyone else. If you do, even if they're of you or you pass along someone elses - you could be charged with producing or distributing child pornography. If you keep them on your phone or computer you could be charged with possession. If they go to someone in another state (and that happens really easily), it's a federal felony.
Then there's the emotional (and reputation) damage that can come from having intimate photos of yourself go to a friend who can become an ex-friend and send it to everyone you know. Not only can they be sent around; they can be distributed and archived online for people to search for pretty much forever.
Sexting can be done on any media-sharing device or technology - including email and the Web. Teens have been convicted for child porn distribution for emailing sexually explicit photos to each other.
Many causes. In some cases, kids are responding to peer pressure in a form of cyberbullying or pressure from a boyfriend or girlfriend (they break up, and sometimes those photos get sent around out of revenge). Sometimes it's impulsive behavior, flirting, or even blackmail. It's always a bad idea.
Parents: Talk with your kids about sexting in a relaxed setting. Ask them what they know about it (they may not have heard the term, so "naked photo-sharing" works too). Express how you feel in a conversational, non-confrontational way. A two-way dialog can go a long way toward helping your kids understand how to minimize legal, social and reputation risks.
The bottom line: Stay alert when using digital media. People aren't always who they seem to be, even in real life, and sometimes they change and do mean things. Critical thinking about what we upload as well as download is the best protection.
Be an educated parent, you will have safer teens.
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