Today in sexting

Bad judgment lands another teen on the sex offender list. But as alarm grows, the Wall Street Journal asks: Are the troubling trend statistics inflated?

Published April 9, 2009 5:18PM (EDT)

Attention parents, school administrators and other concerned citizens: The sexting phenomenon has reached danger level orange. Or red. Or whatever color indicates full-blown, media-crazed alert. Even Tyra recently spent an entire show discussing the topic (which she emphasized is a "very, and I mean you guys, very graphic new phenomenon"). And I would plunk down what's left of my savings on a bet that "Law and Order: SVU" is putting the final touches on a sexting script.

Let's take a trip through recent headlines: An 18-year-old from Orlando, Florida, has been sentenced to five years and forced to register as a sex offender after sharing a naked picture of his 16-year-old girlfriend with his friends. He is fighting to get his name removed from the registry, but for now, will remain on it until he's 43 years old. Over at CNN, Mike Galanos, host of CNN's "Prime News," adds his name to the list of critics concerned that labeling kids as adult pedophiles might be taking all of this a bit too far. As he writes, "It's clear we need to change our laws to catch up with technology."

Galanos quotes a ubiquitous statistic, one that has been used in nearly every sexting article to date, bolstering parents' worst fears: a poll conducted last fall by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and found that 20 percent of teens had sent or posted online nude or semi-nude photos or videos of themselves. But the Wall Street Journal is questioning the reliability of those numbers. Apparently, the same adolescents who are comfortable using technology to explore their sexuality may be more likely to respond to a poll conducted online, thereby inflating the poll's conclusions.

But whether it's one in five or one in a thousand, it's quite clear that at this point, some teens are going to bare all (or some) digitally. As Tracy Clark-Flory wrote in her February feature story on sexting, "These digital offerings bring the potential for humiliation and blackmail if the photos or video get into the wrong hands -- and, let's face it, they often do."

By Katie Rolnick

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