Cell Phones Could Land Teens Behind Bars

by Katie Jeffries on November 17, 2009

Being a teenager has always been complicated, but it is much more risky for this generation than ever before. In part one of WHIZ’s Katie Jeffries’s series on "Risky Teen Behaviors", she explores why teenagers could face felony charges due to their cell phones.

A phone is no longer just a phone. Nowadays it can double as a computer, planner and camera. With this technology a trend called "sexting" is on the rise among teens. "Sexting" is when a person takes a nude photo of themself and sends it via text message to another person.  Zanesville High School Prinicipal Mark Ulbrich says "sexting" is a very big problem in schools and can start earlier than most parents may think.

"Well I know we had an incident in the middle school last year and we know that there have been incidents throughout the high school as well.  So as early as middle school and probably if you look across the country as early as elementary," says Ulbrich.

While parents are shaking their heads as to why teens and children would do such a thing the answer is as simple as puppy love.

"I think they would do it to show their affection towards somebody or they do it in a way to be funny or cute, not realizing that information can be disseminated all across the web," tells Ulbrich.

The days of when a girl liked a boy she passed him a note seem to be disappearing. While teens say sexting is no big deal, what they don’t realize is at their age  it’s illegal.

"Ohio law allows for the charging of anybody who takes the picture or participates in it being taken, sends it or participates in sending or simply possesses it.  It fits the legal definition of child pornography, so if children out there think it is innocent behavior to get them and keep them they’re wrong. It is illegal," says Licking County Prosecutor, Kenneth Oswalt.

If a student is over the age of 16 and sexting a fellow minor, the teen could legally be deemed a sex offender and put on the national registry. Prosecutors for both Licking and Muskingum Counties are holding presentations to students about the dangers of sexting.

"The problem is the opportunity to make a mistake is strapped on their hip or in their book bag or in their purse. It is just as simple as that," says Oswalt.

I spoke with a senior at Zanesville High School, who did not want his face shown, who says his parents spoke with him about sexting after hearing about a school presentation and he has decided never to sext for a simple reason.

"I just feel it is dirty and you don’t know who is going to see it and why would you want to do it," says the student.

Oswalt and Ulbrich both say parents need to patrol their teen’s cell phones. Oswalt also says teens need to make it clear to their friends that will turn in any nude photos sent to their phone to a trusted adult.

"Chances are you are going to avoid the problem if you make it absolutely clear you send that stuff to me, I am going to let mom, dad, teacher, principal know about it. You are not likely to get those types of stuff," says Oswalt.

There is a bill pending in the Ohio Senate that proposes to make sexting a first degree misdemeanor instead of a felony.



Katie Jeffries