Thanks to smartphone apps, parents face new challenges with kids sexting

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- It's quite typical for middle school students to have a cell phone. It helps parents stay in touch and gives them some peace of mind.

But schools and parents are having to team up to make sure the phones aren’t being used to send embarrassing photos that could be criminal.

Jill Murphy said she keeps close tabs on her 13-year-old son Caden's phone usage.

"I've heard of other kids having the issues already of sending pictures that shouldn't be sent. It happens between that 12- and 14-year-old exploring age and things that start happening," she said.

"One thing I always tell the kids is never underestimate the speed of the Internet or underestimate how fast this stuff can travel digitally," Overland Park School Resource Officer Justin Seals said.

Seals holds workshops for parents about the latest apps children are using to hide phone usage from them.

"Snapchat advertises as kind of the disappearing picture if you would, but every phone can screenshot. There's even things built within the app where you can store images," Seals said.

Those include features of Snapchat like "My Eyes Only" that can keep others scrolling through your phone from finding them, and apps that function like calculators until you put in the passcode revealing secret files and photos.

Seals also teaches classes to students about the real-world consequences of sexting among minors.

"Someone who sends one of these images, they can be criminally charged for doing this," he explained.

So can the person who receives it if they share it, maybe just thinking it was funny.

“There are real world consequences. You aren’t just going to get suspended from school. This can affect you, and it can hurt people," he said.

Seals believes parents need to get more involved to stop the cycle.

"Ask to see your kids technology. I usually say to kids, 'Hold up your cell phone. If you think that's yours, you are wrong. For one, your parents probably own it. Two, if there's any reason to believe there's criminal activity, I can get it," Seals said.

"I think a lot of parents say they are going to check their kids stuff, and I don't know if they ever do," Murphy said.

Parents should set ground rules as soon as they give their children phones, but continued monitoring and reminders about the dangers can’t hurt.

"Just try to let them know that once it's out there, it's out there. Everybody has it. It just takes one little text or email or picture that you sent. That sticks with you forever," Murphy said.

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