Kids’ sexting has been terrifying and befuddling adults since it took off in recent years when unlimited data plans armed a generation with cell-phone cameras, says Redbook. No one knows how many kids do it: One study reported 20 percent of teens, another 4 percent. (In both cases, a larger group admitted to forwarding someone else’s photo.) Because the images are, by definition, child pornography, in most jurisdictions sexting by kids — be it sharing a self-portrait or forwarding one — is a felony, an adult crime punishable with jail time and mandatory registration as a sex offender.
Yet it’s clear that kids are different from the sleazebags on To Catch a Predator. Stakeholders on all sides of the issue — parents, educators, researchers, and prosecutors — are learning that it’s tough to punish and deter teen sexting without destroying young lives in the process. How does a family survive a sexting scandal? A unique program in Ohio tries to protect kids from the cruelest penalties of the criminal justice system. It launched in 2009 with a simple goal: to educate, not prosecute, teens who make bad judgment calls.