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Some teens sending wrong messages

May 26, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

What is it?

Sexting is taking and sending sexually explicit pictures with electronic devices like cell phones.

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- The message was clear: Teenagers don't think about the consequences when they engage in destructive and often criminal behaviors.

Pennsylvania State Police trooper Ed Asbury, Waynesboro School Resource Officer Travis Carbaugh and Kevin Sanders from Waynesboro Hospital addressed a crowd of community leaders Tuesday regarding issues involving teenagers.

A major component of the discussion was "sexting," a method of taking and sending sexually explicit pictures with electronic devices.

"It is shockingly common among teenagers," Asbury said.

Asbury asked those gathered at a joint Communities That Care and Rotary Club of Waynesboro luncheon how many people hadn't heard of sexting. One or two hands went up at most tables.

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He talked about several cases in which people have been charged with child pornography violations for saving or transmitting pictures on cell phones. Sometimes the cases only involved teenagers, but others included school officials or sports coaches that received messages.

The charges usually are felonies with stiff penalties and fines, Asbury said. A 13-year-old could be charged as an adult and deal with that record for a lifetime, he said.

"They don't think things through. They act, rather than think," Asbury said.

A common factor in the cases involves the pictured person craving attention, the trooper said. Either parents aren't involved at home or the photographed person is trying to win favor with a girlfriend or boyfriend, he said.

"They want to be wanted," Asbury said.

He cited national statistics saying that 50 percent of girls taking sexy pictures do so in response to pressure from a guy. One 15-year-old girl said she sent naked pictures to a boyfriend "to keep him."

The mobile device transmissions, along with postings on sites like Facebook, "feel good," so it's hard to tell a child they're dangerous, Asbury said.

He recommended luncheon attendees form strong relationships with children and "let them know you'll listen."

Carbaugh is a Waynesboro police officer based in Waynesboro Area Middle School. He teaches classes about drugs and bullying, responds to incidents and serves as an informal guidance counselor.

"Cell phone problems are our No. 1 violation at the middle school," Carbaugh said.

Most of the nearly 100 violations this school year involved students text messaging during class. One involved sexually explicit pictures, Carbaugh said.

A routine cell phone violation automatically results in a 60-minute detention and requirement that a parent picks up the phone at the school, according to Carbaugh.

Sanders joined Carbaugh in talking about the increased prevalence of prescription drug abuse. Sanders said 18- and 19-year-olds, who do not need parental signatures on forms, enter the emergency room complaining of unconfirmed pain and asking for Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet.

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