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Teenage sexting, adolescent lunacy

Dagmar BreitenbachNovember 9, 2015

Colorado high school students last week got caught circulating hundreds of inappropriate photos. Sexting is a trend among teenagers in Germany, too. They often underestimate the potential problems.

Hands Holding smartphone
Image: picture-alliance/maxppp/E. Bride

Sexting is the exchange of sexually explicit messages or pictures over social media via a smart phone.

When teenagers are involved in sexting and it gets out of hand, it can be a problem. Young people tend to be careless: It's so easy to post a revealing photo to social media, via Snapchat or WhatsApp messaging services - but once it's gone, you can't take it back.

That's a lesson students at a Colorado High School are learning the hard way.

At least 100 students were found trading up to 400 sexually explicit pictures at a Canon City high school and posting them on social media. Some of the kids in the photographs were eighth graders from the middle school, The New York Times reported.

Inappropriate photos

To hide the photos from parents and the school, the students used so-called "phone vaults," apps that at first glance appear to be simple calculators.

Sexting is not a new trend. It's on the rise among German teens, observers say . They warn of the potential threats to adolescents, even if Germans may have a more relaxed attitude toward sex and nudity.

This German user says students trading nude photos is no scandal and wonders why it's even reported in the media.

The problem is that adolescents often simply don't realize what can happen with the photo they're posting, said Stefanie Fächter of Germany's Safer Internet Center Klicksafe, which is part of an EU Internet safety program. After all, our online communication is ever-changing and it's become more picture-oriented, the expert told DW.

We are increasingly confronted with nudity in the media, and sexting seems to be the next step, said Patrick Durner of the Hessian State Office for Addiction Problems (HLS). "I have the impression it's pretty widespread, and almost normal among teenagers," he told DW, warning that it's obviously a problematic use of the technology.

One thoughtless click

The kids, most of them underage, don't take the consequences into account, he explained, adding that relationships tend to be short-lived at that age, and ex-boy or girl friends can easily use sexually explicit photos for revenge, or to show off, or for countless other reasons. Suddenly, a very private picture meant for only one person can end up on social media, trigger cyber bullying and in a worst case scenario, lead to suicide.

Not to mention the legal aspect: the exchange of sexually explicit photos of minors cans also be interpreted as spreading child pornography.

There's no set legal procedure for schools once they catch students sexting, Durner said. But prevention is the key word anyway, he says: making the teenagers and their parents aware of the consequences of sharing explicit photos.

Digital dangers

And that seems to be the approach schools take. Apart from involving parents, teachers and school psychologists in cases of cyber bullying and sexting, schools try to "strengthen students' media competence" by raising awareness on all aspects of the technology, the Education Ministry in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) told DW in a statement.

Sexting is a phenomenon that tends to be strongly anchored in student's private lives, which makes it more difficult for teachers to notice, the ministry added.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, police and the district attorney's office are reportedly pondering whether to file child pornography charges - including felony charges for showing a naked private body part and sending it to another person - against some of the participants in the high school sexting ring.

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