Sexting another back-to-school concern for parents, expert says

It's back-to-school season and that's a good time for parents to start thinking about their kids and sexting, cyberbullying expert Brian Trainor says.

Exchanging explicit messages can lead to extortion, low self-esteem, Brian Trainor says

Parents need to be aware that sexting can start with pre-teens, says cyberbullying expert Brian Trainor. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

It's back-to-school season and that's a good time for parents to start thinking about their kids and "sexting", cyberbullying expert Brian Trainor says.

According to Trainor, a former police sergeant, some 8 to 10 per cent high school students "sext" — which involves sending and receiving explicit text messages or images.

In extreme cases, criminal charges can result. In Saskatoon, a young man was recently sentenced to two years in jail after luring and extorting four girls and encouraging them to send numerous explicit photos and video.

The accused in that case started when he was 16 and the victims were 13 and 14, but sexting can start with kids as young as eight or nine years old, Trainor said.

Teenagers may not realize the impact texting a sexual image can have. The risk of extortion is one issue, but so is low self-esteem, he said.

He urges parents to know what's on their children's phone and to familiarize themselves with the technology.

One program that's been used for sexting is Snapchat, which allows people to send images that quickly disappear. But that's not foolproof, he said.

"Even though Snapchat says they disappear in six seconds, the problem is screen captures. And kids are all doing it," he said.

"Sure, Snapchat will notify you hey this image has been captured. But so what? What are you going to do about it?"

When it comes to sexting, students also have to think about their reputations years into the future, he said.

"It's not so much what you've done at this moment. But what happens in five, six years when you apply for a job or apply for university?" he said. 

"Do you really think you're going to go to the college of law if you've got a picture showing your goodies? Probably not."

With files from Micki Cowan