Margaret Carlson

Go ahead, let teens trade naked selfies for mugshots

A model taking a selfie on a cellphone. More teenagers are taking naked photos of themselves and sharing them online. Parents often cite the fear of invading their children's privacy as reason not to intervene. But the writer says parents need to ste
A model taking a selfie on a cellphone. More teenagers are taking naked photos of themselves and sharing them online. Parents often cite the fear of invading their children's privacy as reason not to intervene. But the writer says parents need to step in and "invade away" to rein in sexting.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WILL teenagers ever learn? You think yours will. Maybe so. But it's likely that was also the hope of the parents of children who were so shamed by nude photos of themselves that went south - how else can they go - that they killed themselves.

Sexting hasn't ended, despite the misery it causes and the hope that easily bored teens will move on to something else. There were two fresh highly public outbreaks this month in the United States. The largest spread across six counties in Virginia, where more than 1,000 pictures of naked 14- and 15-year-olds were pinged by 100 teens on Instagram.

The fun stopped when a mother found some unfortunate photos on her daughter's Instagram account. The kid had been playing a game - a variation of "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" - in which teens could get access to nude photos of others by posting one of themselves.

In the second incident, a group of middle-school children in Barrington, Illinois, an affluent suburb of Chicago, was sexting. Will pre-pubescent teens be next?

The police are involved in both cases, and criminal charges could be brought. A photo of a naked underage teen is child pornography, a felony. Teens don't realise that, or block it out. Holed up in a room, or at a party, snapping a crotch shot apparently seems like such a nifty, fun thing to do. Having the nude shot replaced by a police mugshot might be a good thing. It could wake up the stupidest kid.

In the meantime, what's happened to parents? They understand the peril but often cite the fear of invading their teen's privacy as reason not to intervene - as if a mindless kid ruled by hormones should be able to keep sexting private when mum and dad are paying for the smartphone.

Invade away. The cost of having a parent pay for your unlimited texting should be that you can't ruin your life or someone else's by sexting.

Just as there are parental controls on television, there is widely available software to monitor the devices kids walk around with. Some will send the parent any photo the child takes before it can take flight.

Parents have to realise there isn't a sufficient shaming mechanism at work these days. There wasn't one when I was a kid, either. But back then, mistakes didn't go viral.

The urge to share is so great that in a notorious case, a group of teenagers on the football team in Steubenville, Ohio, took pictures of their criminal behaviour. They had video footage of partygoers cheering on the players as they violated a girl. They drew a line at sending a picture of one of them urinating on the victim but a kid bragged about it online.

The perpetrators' photos convicted them. To his credit, Ohio Attorney-General Mike DeWine didn't stop there. As hard as it is to imagine (or perhaps not, where football is concerned), adults had covered for the students. Attorney-General DeWine indicted them, too.

Maybe that case didn't get enough publicity to curb sexting because it apparently remains endemic. If criminal charges are brought in Virginia and Barrington, let's hope it makes headlines and becomes a teachable moment in every middle and high school. Maybe that's what it takes to get through those thick skulls.

In the meantime, just put a nanny device on your kid's phone while pointing out something teens already should know: Their privacy can't be invaded because no one has any left.

BLOOMBERG