CLINTON -- Approximately 25 percent of teenagers have sent a sexually explicit image of themselves to another person.
In addition, approximately 50 percent of teens have received a sexually explicit image from someone else, even when they did not want or ask for the image.
Those figures, according to various national surveys, including the National Institutes of Health and the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, are the reason a local neuropsychologist has created an online diversion program aimed at educating teens about the dangers of sexting and how to engage in safe cellphone practices.
Dr. Adam Schwebach, a neuropsychologist at the Neuropsychology Center of Utah and president of www.courteducationonline.com, said 90 percent of students in one local high school who took the online diversion course said they didn't realize sexting was illegal. In 2009, Utah passed a law defining sexting between minors as a misdemeanor crime.
"Oftentimes teens feel pressured into sexting," he said. "They often do not realize the consequences or they have the misconception that the person they are sexting with will not share the image with someone else."
Sexting is sending or receiving a sexually explicit image or text message through some type of technology device. Usually it occurs between cellphones. However, Schwebach said, with recent advances in technology, sexting can also occur with the use of Skype, Snapchat or by using Facetime.
Last June, University of Utah researcher Donald Strassberg published his findings from a survey on sexting in one Utah high school in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. The study found 50 percent of the boys and 30 percent of the girls surveyed admitted to receiving a sext message. One in four of those forwarded the picture or message to other people.
Courteducationonline.com is specifically designed to help educate teens about the dangers of sexting. Many of the teens who take the course have potentially faced legal charges or have been in trouble for sexting, Schwebach said. The goal of the course is to fulfill any potential legal requirements and to help prevent the teen from sexting again in the future.
"Parents are also asked to take a shorter version of the course to help them understand the dangers of sexting and what they can do to help prevent their child from sexting," he said.
The course includes information about sexting, the potential social and legal consequences and real life video vignettes of cases involved in sexting. Participants are required to complete an examination on what they learned in order to obtain a certification of completion.
Schwebach said education and prevention are key. He also said parents have every right to monitor and control the usage of a cellphone just as they would monitor or limit the use of the Internet, video games and television. He said research indicates that teens whose parents closely monitor what they're doing with mobile technology and limit the amount of time spent on such devices are at lower risk of engaging in dangerous behavior with a cellphone or other mobile device.