Staggering Number of Teens Involved in Sexting: What Parents Can Do

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SACRAMENTO-

Here's a message that parents need to get: 40 percent of you have no idea what your kids are doing with that phone in their hands.

“Today, 40% of all kids, all teenagers, are involved in sexting. Sixty percent of the time, that involves child pornography," Robert Lotter, developer of the “My Mobile Watchdog” software, told FOX40.

For years, Lotter has been working on ways to shine a light in very dark corner of the smart phone industry - a dark corner where lots of kids are experimenting and exposing themselves.

"Once it's out there, you can't get it back. You can't get rid of it,” he said. “It's there, and it's there forever."

Teens who say they've sexted, sent sexual images or video of themselves to someone else, frequently say they did it with a boyfriend or girlfriend. But the images don't necessarily stop circulating there.

And that's the beginning of a problem created by evolving technology that our laws and our practices haven't caught up with: kids who are technically guilty of possession or distribution of child pornography.

"Nobody wants to convict a child for possession of child porn. Nobody wants to convict a child for bad judgment, which most of the time that's what this is,” Lotter said. “Nobody wants a child to be labeled a registered sex offender for the rest of their life. On the other hand, there are victims of this."

"We pull the phones at night. No closed doors with the phone or computer," parent TK said, explaining the rules of the house.

But it's not always kids on the other end of the conversation when a sext gets sent. Lotter says in schools where his monitoring software has uncovered a sexting epidemic, there's often an adult - an 18 or 19-year-old hovering at the edges - waiting to get their hands on a child's intimate images.

And the ages of the kids who get exploited is shocking.

"The 14-year-old is the most at risk age. On other words, we have more cases involving that 13, 14-year-old age range that are the most egregious, the most dangerous, the most sad," Lotter said.

Lotter says parents need to monitor their kids’ smartphone traffic. That's what his software "My Mobile Watchdog" does. That text or application will have to go through your phone first, before it goes through theirs.

And parents need to tell their kids that they're watching.

"You have to understand, today, the smart phone is the single most important possession of a child,” Lotter said. “It is the gateway to their entire social network."

Our laws need to evolve too, he says, so there are other options when a kid makes a bad choice.

"Mandatory diversion training for children. First time offender? O.K., you have go take this weekend class for two or three weekends and, by-the-way, you have to have your phone monitored for six months. Or you can have no phone," he said.

That way, the choice for parents, principals, and police isn't either turning a blind eye, or turning a kid into a convict, for playing adult in a dangerous world.