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Class teaches parents and students the dangers of sexting | Video

Send a text message to a friend and he or she might send it to someone else. And someone else. And someone else.

That’s exactly what officers Donna Main and Maureen Wheeler of the Port Orchard Police Department tried to emphasis to parents and teens at the Texting, Sexting and Cyberbulling class held March 28 at Cedar Heights Junior High School.

Send a scandalous picture to a boyfriend or girlfriend, and it could rapidly spread around the school.

“You need to assume people will forward the picture,” Wheeler said. “It spreads quickly. Would you go to a mall and take all of your clothes off and run around?”

While Wheeler’s mall comparison drew laughs, she made it clear that sexting, the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photographs, has become a big problem for teens and can lead to charges as drastic as child pornography.

According to Wheeler, 50 percent of teens and tweens have sent or received a sext. And though a Pew Research Center study puts the number at somewhere around 15 percent of teens receiving sexts, the issue is undeniable. Even in South Kitsap.

“These kids, they can even text with their phone in their pockets,” Wheeler said. “They send things without looking.”

The hour-long class provided information and safety tips for parents and students when using cellphones, the Internet and social media sites.

Main said sexting can happen with children as young as 4th graders.

“Kids are curious,” she said. “They have this technology right at their fingertips. They get carried away.”

Sexting is illegal, Main said, and parents who are the legal owners of the cellphone could be criminally charged for what their child sends and receives.

“Parents can face litigation,” she said. “Kids can be charged with child pornography if they have pictures on their phones.”

The officers encouraged parents to keep an eye on what their child texts. Wheeler said asking to view a child’s phone at random intervals is a good way to know what a child is texting.

“I’ll ask my kids for their phone and scroll through their last 10 texts,” Wheeler said. She also encouraged parents to password protect cellphones and computers to lock out inappropriate sites.

She also encouraged kids who had received a sext to come forward and tell an adult.

Dave Colombini, South Kitsap School District’s director of school and family support, said the school district has seen incidents of sexting and cyberbulling, but they haven’t encountered it too much. The class is a proactive measure, he said.

“It’s more of an educational piece,” he said, noting the gravity of sexting. “It turns lives upside down when these things get out.

Colombini said it’s nice for parents to hear that it is OK to set limits.

“Parents need to hear sometimes that it’s OK to take the device away and to have expectations with their kids,” he said. “Parents need to be educated too about what ramifications there are.”

After the presentation, the officers fielded questions from the audience. One mother of a 14-year-old boy said she had taken away his cellphone after discovering inappropriate messages.

“I couldn’t believe these things where on his phone,” she said.

Scott and Dee Maxwell, guardians of their 15-year-old granddaughter, said they found the class informative. They had to take away their granddaughter’s cellphone and ipod after finding off-putting messages. They said they wished they had brought her along to the class.

“She would have learned something from it,” Scott Maxwell said. “I don’t think she even knows it is illegal.”

He said the Port Orchard Police should present the at school assemblies. Even in elementary schools.

“This is something they should do in every school,” he said. “By high school, it might even be too late.”

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