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‘Sexting’ blackmail

January 18, 2010

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JESSE SINGAL’S op-ed (“Panic over teen ‘sexting’ eclipses bigger threat,’’ Jan. 8) is correct in pointing out that bullying is the problem that children are most likely to encounter online, but he missed two important points. In preliminary results from our research (still ongoing), 56 percent of the kids surveyed told us that sexting is often or sometimes used as a form of cyberbullying - that is, it is used to blackmail or coerce other kids.

Shockingly, 25 percent told us that they had been coerced into sending a nude or partially nude picture of themselves! In other words, sexting is not always innocent and it may be just another form of bullying. Still, 58 percent of our subjects told us that they thought the most common reason for sexting is to “attract someone you’re romantically interested in.’’ But even in those cases, I think parents are still right to be concerned, as a nude photo out there on the Internet could potentially resurface over and over again, and the children who post it may unintentionally make themselves vulnerable to victimization.

Talk with your children about electronic communications, and be sure they know what blackmail or coercion is and why they should come to you immediately and never give into it.

ELIZABETH K. ENGLANDER
The writer, a psychology professor at Bridgewater State College, is director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center.

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