Published in Leesburg Today (May 4, 2009)

A Look at Sexting

Sexting, the practice of sending sexually explicit photos and messages between cell phones, has quickly become all the rage for many pre-teens and teens across the Nation. The phenomenon was first reported in 2005, and since then, parents, lawmakers and school systems have been grappling with how to deal with it. And Loudoun County is not immune to this phenomenon. In March of last year, Ting-Yi Oei, a 60-year-old assistant principal at Freedom High School in South Riding, Virginia was charged with child pornography in investigating sexting within his school. The charges were later dismissed by a Loudoun County judge, but not after Ting-Yi Oei spent $150,000 defending himself and his three-decade career as a well-respected educator.

Sexting has been brought on by the advances in technology, and how we deal with it continues to be debated. Recent concerning research has found that 22 percent of teen girls and 20 percent of teen boys have sent nude or semi-nude photos of themselves. Moreover, 29 percent of teens believe that exchanging nude photos are “expected” to date or be popular.

As a nation we are still trying to understand how to punish sexting as a crime and fix it as a problem, with several judges across the nation are dismissing these sorts of cases. For example, while most parents would agree that it’s wrong for a 13 year old to send an indecent photo of him or herself to a girlfriend or boyfriend, most of us would also feel uneasy charging and prosecuting that 13 year old for the act. As parents, we’d prefer to handle the matter within our own home and not the courtroom inasmuch as sexting is considered to be a felony crime.

Here are some basic parent guidelines in protecting your pre-teen or teen from the problem.

  • Talk to your preteen or teen about sex. It’s better for you to deal with any discomfort that may arise in this conversation as parents than to have your son or daughter out in this very fast paced world of ours ill-prepared to handle him or herself.
  • Discuss the dangers of sexting with your son or daughter – that it’s illegal and that the message, once sent, can be resent to others. Ask your teen if he or she would be comfortable having the entire school see their sent photo or message.
  • Get your son or daughter’s word that he or she will delete any received nude photo or inappropriate message. Your teen needs to know that having possession of such material on their cell phone is a crime, and sending it on, is redistributing child pornography – also a crime.
  • You can also direct your son or daughter to, an informative Website that deals well with the topic of sexting.Lastly, be willing to get professional help for your teenager if needed. Teens may simply sext to be part of things or this behavior may represent deeper, underlying issues (e.g., low self-esteem, self-worth or confidence). As parents, we are often too close to help our teenagers to deal with or resolve their problems.
  • Dr. Michael Oberschneider, Director
  • Ashburn Psychological and Psychiatric Services