The cell phone has turned into a rite of passage for most teenagers. Meaning they're mature enough to call, text, play games and send photos, some even explicit in what's known as sexting.
Parents listen up - a new study shows more than one in five middle school aged children has engaged in sexting. From high school to middle school, students are learning, growing and exploring; many looking or friends, acceptance and a way to be a part of something.
"I think I was like maybe 12 or 13. I talked to somebody, I think was in the 8th grade-9th grade, so me being young, I'm gonna really like him," says a young teen girl. That was four years ago for this Memphis honor roll student, "He asked me to send a pic, I'm like really, I was so young, I didn't really understand it and he explained it. So I was like, OK, I'll do that just because I didn't want him to stop talking to me or not like me. I just really wanted him to like me."
A natural desire for most teens in this case, she took a pic of her private area and sent it. She never deleted the pic and her parents found it.
It's called sexting.
The young girl's mom says, "I questioned her and it took me about a day to even process it that this picture had been sent so I questioned her and she told me what happened."
What happened here is becoming the norm with not only teens, but kids in middle school. Memphis Police Sgt. Wilton Cleveland says, "No full nudity, some of them are images of videos, some of them are videos, not only images where these kids are masturbating and sending these images to each other."
Sgt. Cleveland says even if a child sends a naked pic to another child or teen it's illegal. "Even other minors cannot possess child porn so say she sends it to her 16 year old boyfriend and he decides to retain it, then he is in possession of child porn." He also says officers have found dirty texts and pictures of teens on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Cleveland says teens are also using various apps including one called Snapchat and Kikmessenger, but he says kids are tech savvy and parents need to be aware there are apps to hide info. "A lot of them tend to look like a calculator or radio or something like that then you have to push in a code or whatever and it allows it to unlock it and those do pretty well hiding the images," says Sgt. Cleveland.
For the parent of our teen, she says finding such a personal pic of your child, often shatters your trust and bond with your child. Sgt. Cleveland says teens need to understand there is technology to pull any pic or text from a phone, even if you think it's gone. He says to parents, if you pay for your child's phone, know what's going on. "They can limit the usage, they can access the devices if they want to. Parents should have all of their passwords whether it's to their computer, cellphones and they should check those regularly."
"Being a parent, you're supposed to go through everything, don't just go through the sock drawer, go through the socks in the drawer."
The legislative solutions against sexting are still up in the air. Since sexting is illegal, some kids who've been caught were forced to go to juvenile court. Most were put on probation, but in some states the children were charged with a misdemeanor.