SAN DIEGO - Law enforcement officials advised parents Monday to strictly monitor their children's online activities in light of the discovery of widespread sexting among underage students in the San Diego area.
Twenty teenage girls are under investigation for sending out sexually explicit images of themselves on their smartphones, according to San Diego police and the San Diego Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
"Unfortunately, some of them are very graphic," said SDPD Lt. Chuck Kaye. "The individuals took pictures of themselves in very compromising positions, exposing various parts of their bodies."
Kaye said that the task force was seeing an unusual amount of "sexting" activity in the past month. He said the teens all attend high schools or middle schools in the county, but declined to say which schools. Kaye told 10News the girls sent pictures to boys, who often forwarded them to other young men.
"It is criminal when children produce what are basically pornographic images of themselves and send it to other children," Kaye said. "We are hoping that parents will take a more proactive role with their kids, examine what's going on with their computers, their Internet usage, as well as their cellphones."
Authorities expect to make arrests in the case, though none have occurred yet, the lieutenant said. Currently all those under investigation are minors.
Possession and distribution of child pornography is a felony.
"People have to teach their kids what's right and what's wrong, and sending naked pictures of yourself to anyone is not OK," said Kenya Morrison, the mother of two teens. Morrison is so worried about privacy that she blocked texting and emails from her 14-year old son's phone.
The task force encourages all parents to be more like Morrison, warning that inappropriate pictures can haunt a teenager for years, if not forever.
Here is a list of recommendations issued by the task force to help parents keep their children safe:
- Understand the technology that your child is using. Know about your child's phone, as well as social network sites, gaming systems and chat sites. Some of these could have messaging and photo-sharing options.
- Remind your kids, once the image is sent, it can never be retrieved. They will lose control of it. Talk to your kids about how they would feel if their teachers, parents, friends and the entire school saw the picture. Discuss your expectations and the potential legal and social ramifications of sending inappropriate pictures or spreading them online.
- Talk about the pressures to send revealing photos. Let your children know that you understand how they can be pushed or dared into sending something. Tell them that no matter how big the social pressure is, the potential social humiliation can be hundreds of times worse.
- Communicate house rules. A child should have pre-established house rules before they receive a phone.
- Phone will be charged at night in parents room (Parents can review contents and keeps kids from texting all night)
- Must maintain grades at a certain level
- Must be a productive member of the family
- Check your phone bill and make sure you recognize all numbers on it. Kids text all the time. Ask children about any number that you don’t recognize.
- You are the Parent. You pay the bill. You own the phone. Therefore, you have the right and responsibility to be a good watchdog. Privacy has to do with changing clothes and going to the bathroom, not ignoring all of their tech communication.
- SafetyNet, a program of the San Diego Police Foundation, www.SmartCyberChoices.org offers additional resources for parents.
Anyone with information about this case can call the San Diego Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force at (858) 715-7100 or Crime Stoppers at (888) 580-8477.