Parents get primer on sexting

By Bryan Richardson

By the time you read this sentence, a sexually explicit picture or video can be sent, leaving a permanent mark on the world.

More than a hundred parents gathered Monday at Manhattan High to hear about ways to guard their children from making that terrible decision that takes only seconds.

How important is the issue of “sexting”?

Well, the meeting became too big for its original location in the Little Theatre and was moved to Rezac Auditorium.

The act of sexting among minors has become a huge issue, even crossing into the legal realm.

“Underaged sexting is legally classified as child pornography,” said Emily Weddle of the Freedom for Healthy Relationships program. “It’s trafficking, no matter what age you are.”

Weddle said sexting is just “a slice of the pie” of all the sexual issues that kids face — but in an age of instant communication, it’s a critical issue.

“Because of the technical aspect of it with the technology involved, it has far-reaching results,” she said.

Weddle said these “sexts” can be used to shame the sender, particularly affecting young girls.

This also falls into the area of cyberbullying, which Brandon Hutton of the Boys and Girls Club discussed.

“Bullying usually happens before, during and after school,” he said. “(But) Cyberbullying is one of those things that can happen anytime.”

Weddle said most conversations about sexual activity tend to focus on the physical act, and not necessarily on the emotional aspect.

“When you get involved in these relationships, there’s no condom to protect your heart,” she said.

Weddle said children have always been interested in sexuality.

What is new is the way it’s being explored, said Julie Hagedorn of the Freedom for Healthy Relationships program.

“You can’t call up your mom and say, ‘Mom, when you started sexting, what did you do?’” she said.

The speakers Tuesday night discussed the importance of communication, urging those in attendance to talk to their own children within the week.

“What they need from you is to be their healthy relationship coach,” Weddle said.

Public Information Officer Matt Droge of the Riley County Police Department said it’s important to maintain a confidence when speaking about sexting.

“No matter what you do, it’s going to be awkward for them,” he said. “You have to pretend like it’s not awkward for you.”

Droge said the RCPD has several ongoing cases involving sexting. He said that sexting cases here usually involve 13-16 year olds.

“Usually when it becomes a police department problem is when there’s a bunch of people involved,” he said.

Droge said RCPD uses software to get deleted evidence off computers for use in court. “Nothing that you delete is actually (gone from a computer),” he said.

He used the smartphone application “Snapchat” as an example of how users can be fooled on the matter of deleting.

A Snapchat picture self-deletes in a matter of seconds. It can be saved via screenshot, but the sender is notified that saving has occurred.

Droge said there are smartphone apps that can be used to “hack” Snapchat and save photos without the sender knowing.

He cautioned parents not to jump to conclusions about their child’s activities.

“Just because your kid has Snapchat doesn’t mean they’re doing these things,” he said.

Katie Thompson-Alswell, a mother of a 7- and 12-year-old, said after the meeting that she wants to know more about the apps available to children.

“I don’t want my child to constantly teach me about the apps,” she said.

Jill Wise Smith, a mother of a 7-, 9- and 13-year-old, said she doesn’t want a fear of the consequences to be the reason her children don’t sext.

“I want kids to choose not to sext because it doesn’t feel right to do it and because they value themselves more,” she said.

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