In this new age of communication, in which not only words, but pictures and videos can travel nearly limitless distances in the blink of an eye, people tend to be too busy in their wonderment of such feats to see the potential danger lurking closely behind them.
Once placing information of any sort onto a website, or even through a text message, a great deal of risk is assumed by the person doing so. They relinquish control of that information, allowing anyone with access to it the freedom to spread it as they wish, throwing the intentions of the initial person to the wind. This can be a horrifying proposition, to say the least.
And children are the primary victims of such travesties, due mostly to their ignorance on what it means to put something on the internet. This is something Dan McGee, Chief of the Montpelier Police Department hopes to prevent, as he spoke with parents of Montpelier students at an open forum covering the topics of social media and sexting on Monday, March 23.
One of the first things he explained was finality of posting pictures and/or videos of a personal nature on the world wide web.
“These photos and images of you are out there.” Chief McGee stated “Forever.”
Many people, kids and adult alike, may not completely understand just what that means in the grand scheme of things. And they won’t until several years later.
“Do they really want these nude images to come back and haunt them when they’re twenty five?” Asked McGee, before adding, “How about thirty? How about again at thirty-five?”
A perfect example of this occurred in Montpelier just this year. According to McGee, a twenty-seven year old woman was informed by a friend that a video of her in a compromising situation was on display at a pornographic website. Mortified, the woman investigated for herself, discovering that the video had been made when she was only sixteen years old, and had been online for eleven years without her knowledge. At that point, there was little the Montpelier Police Department could do.
Another area case involved high school students from Montpelier. A dispute at a school led one person to begin sending a sexually explicit video involving another student to other children enrolled there. Roughly an hour and a half after the victim discovered what was going on, she reported it to the Montpelier Police Department. Chief McGee claimed that, in that short span preceding their involvement, the video had already made it as far as Flint, Michigan.
Regardless of how such cases are handled after the fact, whatever material has appeared on the internet will likely remain there forever. The best way to fight these tragic happenings is to ensure they never occur in the first place.
How does a parent go about preventing their kids from being in such situations?
“You need to be upfront and honest with them.” Proclaimed McGee.
That’s not enough by itself, however. No matter how many times it is explained to them, most children won’t understand just how severe the consequences are for posting the wrong thing on social media, or even through text, for that matter. It’s simply a difficult concept to fully grasp in general, let alone at the young ages in which today’s youth starts to gain access to these instant and permanent forms of communication.
And that’s why McGee strongly encourages parents to invade the privacy of their kids.
“It’s your obligation to be snoopy.” McGee informed. “You have to be in their face.”
Sifting through their text messages at random, setting up passwords and limits on social media, and downloading monitoring software on phones, tablets, and computers in which the kids have access are all ways to accomplish this. If the amount of texts that appear on the monthly phone bill spike unexpectedly, parents should ask questions as well.
Of course, such behavior will make those parents quite unpopular with their own kids. Chief McGee understands that all too well, but has no problem making that sacrifice himself.
“My kids will probably despise me by the time they turn eighteen.” He admitted. “But I’m okay with that, because they’ll thank my when they’re twenty-eight.”
From a legal standpoint, anyone having nude, or even just partially nude photos of a minor, which is defined as one under the age of seventeen in Ohio, will be considered to be in possession of child pornography, even if the subject of such material is their boyfriend or girlfriend. A misdemeanor conviction, jail time, fines, and having to register as a sex offender are all possible punishments for having such pictures on one’s phone. Also, parents can be held culpable, both criminally and civilly, for the actions of their underage child.
Those looking for more information on the issues surrounding sexting and social media misuse may wish to visit commonsense.org, or the Montpelier police website at montpelieroh.net/police.
T.J. Hug can be reached at