Canadian Kids to be Taught Dangers of Sexting

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Sending sexual text messages and photos -- or "sexting" -- on cell phones clearly is not a good idea.

And if kids in Canada can't figure that out for themselves, their schools will help them. The Vancouver Sun in British Columbia reports that 100 seventh graders will be the first to be taught a new national curriculum to educate kids on the dangers of sexting.

Middle schoolers across Canada will be taught the curriculum beginning in September, according to a press release issued Jan. 21 by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection and the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association.

Signy Arnason, representing the Centre for Child Protection, tells the Vancouver Sun that sexting leaves kids vulnerable to adult sexual predators. But it goes beyond that, as well.

"We're seeing so much harm come to adolescents within their own peer circle, whereby they're sending nude images or inappropriate messages, and those are being transferred to a larger group of individuals," Arnason tells the paper.

This is not an attempt to bust kids for what is (technically) distributing child pornography, she adds.

"The goal is to intervene as soon as possible," she tells the Sun. "So what police are very excited about is that this is a real prevention tool."

And police are excited.

Stephanie Morgan, a police detective in Kingston, Ontario, tells the Sun she thinks the curriculum will help police officers "focus their time being protectors more often than educators."

Researchers for the Pew Research Center surveyed kids ages 12 to 17 last year and found that 15 percent of them had received sexually explicit or suggestive photos or videos over their personal cell phones.

"Teens explained to us how sexually suggestive images have become a form of relationship currency," Amanda Lenhart, senior research specialist and author of the report, said on Pew's Web site when the study was published last month.

"These images are shared as a part of or instead of sexual activity, or as a way of starting or maintaining a relationship with a significant other," she added. "And they are also passed along to friends for their entertainment value, as a joke or for fun."

Fun? Not always.

Arnason tells the Sun of a 14-year-old girl who was persuaded by a text message to run away with a guy who claimed to be 15. He was really 20 and wanted in three provinces on charges that included sexual assault. Police intervened, Arnason tells the paper, but the moral of the story should not be lost on young people.

"The explosion of texting and cell phones is something teachers haven't been well-equipped to address," Arnason tells the Sun. "That's the purpose of this -- to get in early and tackle these issues before we're faced with a major problem."

Canadian teachers already talk to their students about sexting, but the Sun reports they are looking forward to the expanded, focused curriculum.

This first phase involves seventh grade teachers who have agreed to present three lesson plans ranging in length from 40 to 90 minutes. Feedback will be collected and adjustments made before the optional curriculum is made available throughout Canada in September.

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association is helping foot the bill for the curriculum. "The technology is here to stay, so we have to teach kids to use it properly," Bernard Lord, the association's president, tells the Sun.

"If a young person feels uncomfortable about any communications they may be engaged in, or if they ever feel threatened in any way, they should feel completely comfortable letting a trusted adult know about the situation," he adds.

Carolynne Pitura, a guidance counselor at John Henderson Junior High in Winnipeg, tells the Sun the new curriculum could be a godsend.

"I'd be excited about seeing it because every school has issues with the Internet and with Facebook and with cell phone messaging," she says. "If we can have more education, more intervention, and be more proactive rather than reactive, it will benefit all of us."

Related: Teen Commits Suicide - Is Sexting to Blame?

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.