MILLERSVILLE, Md. – The Anne Arundel County Police Department is warning parents they need to talk to their kids about sexting.
“We used to be more concerned with our child coming home pregnant. Now we need to be more concerned about our child’s naked images being broadcast for the world to see,” says Lt. T.J. Smith with the department.
The department is seeing more instances of children sending photos of themselves that end up on sites such as Facebook and Instagram.
“We’re talking about kids under the age of 18, that are the main ones doing this and the main ones exposing themselves.”
The department also uncovered Instagram pages labeled with the names of Anne Arundel County middle and high schools.
“Pictures were being posted, again, nude photos,” he said. Then names of the students in the pictures would be noted with the post.
“This picture can come up years later and embarrass you again,” says Smith.
He says that’s something many children don’t realize.
He likens sending a message with a nude photo of yourself to “clicking that accept box on contracts on the Internet that none of us read. You’re basically giving up all your rights to the picture when you hit the send button.”
In Maryland, kids sharing nude photos of one another is not necessarily against the law.
“It’s the sexual stimulation, the sexual nature of the picture is what takes it to the level of pornography.”
When it does cross the line into pornography, Smith says, “That victim who calls is now the suspect because the victim — underage, again — has transmitted child pornography.”
It is also criminal if someone uses social media to maliciously harass or annoy somebody.
“We will lock people up for this … that doesn’t erase the picture that’s out for thousands and thousands of people to see,” Smith says.
He says now is the time for parents to have a “sexting” talk with their kids.
“It’s a totally different birds a bees conversation in 2014,” he says.
He recommends showing news stories about what could happen if their pictures get out.
Also, parents need to know what their children are doing online and on their smartphones.
“You have to be in your kids’ business, you have to look at their phone. We’re paying the phone bills so we need to make sure we know what’s on it.”
If they say they don’t have social media accounts, Smith says don’t believe it.
“Err on the side that kid has an account.”
The Anne Arundel County Police Department also is reaching out to schools and educating students about the dangers of engaging in this activity.
“We’ve had children commit suicide because of things like this.”