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Posted on Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 5:27 p.m.

U-M poll: Majority of adults don't think teenage sexting should be considered a crime

By Kellie Woodhouse

Seventeen states have laws prohibiting teenage sexting. Another 13 states are in the midst of creating similar laws.

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But a new University of Michigan poll suggests that the majority of adults oppose criminal consequences for teens who send sexually explicit, nude, or semi-nude photos by cellphone.

The poll found that 81 percent of adults prefer that teens caught sexting undergo educational programs or counseling instead of criminal charges.

Twenty percent of adults surveyed think youth caught sexting should be charged with sexual abuse and 18 percent believe sexting should be treated as a sex crime. Forty-four percent of respondents support fines of $500 or less for youth caught sexting.

"As youth sexting has become more of a national concern, many states have acted to address the issue," said Dr. Matthew Davis, director of C.S. Mott Children's Hospital's National Poll on Children's Health. "However, before this poll, very little was known about what the public thinks about sexting legislation."

Three-fourths of adults believe community service is an appropriate punishment for teens caught sending explicit images, and 76 percent of adults think schools should teach youth about the consequences of sending sexts while underage.

"This poll indicates that, while many adults are concerned about sexting among children and teenagers, they strongly favor educational programs, counseling, and community service rather than penalties through the legal system," Davis continued.

The poll found that nearly 80 percent of parents allow their teenagers to own cellphones and that 83 percent of these teenagers have camera capabilities on their phone. Ten percent of parents reported that their child has received a sexually explicit message on their phone, and 6 percent of parents said their child has sent a sext.

Last year, middle schools in Saline dealt with multiple teenage sexting incidents, prompting police to host a forum on cyber safety.

Forty-four percent of adults said they believe sexting is a problem among youth.



Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 5:37 p.m.

Apparently, there are some stupid people in this world. If it's illegal for an adult to transmit nude photos of teenagers, then why in the h*ll would it be LEGAL for a teenager to do that? Every teenage boy who gets a naked photo of a girl they know will send that photo to everybody they know. Throw one of them in jail and it will stop the problem.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 5:24 p.m.

Probably because the adults are doing it a lot more than the kids! If the kids get in trouble...then that is not good news for all the adults sexting!


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 12:15 p.m.

Oh, it's ok for them to look at each other but not Dr. Weinblat?????


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 10:36 a.m.

I was somewhat surprised by many of the comments. Maybe I'm just ole fashion, but I don't think that it is a very good thing to do -- putting one self out there in that fashion is inviting big time trouble in my opinion. And, I certainly would not allow my teenagers to do so.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 5:27 p.m.

You may not "allow" your teenagers to do it, but that doesn't mean they won't. Anyone who actually remembers what it was like being a teen probably remembers doing things against their parents' wishes. Part of growing up is making mistakes and learning from them. Deluding yourself into thinking that your "perfect" teen will never make a mistake is doing your child a disservice. Making the penalties incurred for those mistakes unduly harsh is also doing young adults a great disservice.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 2:07 p.m.

The question is not 'is it a bad idea', but should it be criminalized. It is a bad idea to over eat and not exorcise, but do we want to lock fatties up in camps to enforce good habits?


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 12:31 a.m.

I guess most people on here don't consider what happens when a young girl's photo starts making the rounds of the pervert sites. No big deal right? So her boyfriend gets mad and spreads it big deal. Kids will be kids?

Ellis Sams

Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 2:28 p.m.

Part of being a kid is learning that your bad choices can have unpleasant and sometimes lifelong consequences. No law will stop kids from doing stupid things. However, thoughtful parents can help to minimize this.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 2:05 p.m.

Renee, do you seriously think she would go to jail? Drunk drivers who kill joggers are only in jail overnight here. A little "scared straight" might not hurt. Especially since many parents don't parent anymore.

Renee S.

Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 2:08 a.m.

So you think the solution is to put the young girl in jail then? Oh I'm sure she'll be safe then!

Luis Esparza

Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 11:52 p.m.

Wow! This is so over the top. I law against sending "sexual content" via text. Enough with the government controlling everyone lives. As long as the kids are not receiving images from adults there should be no laws. If it is between kids (adolescents) let the parents handle their own kids, not the law.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 2:04 p.m.

Try reading Luis' post again Don he is on the same side of this issue as you.

Don B. Arfkahk

Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 12:02 a.m.

This is a terrible idea! Parenting is for the government, not the parents! They should be nothing but reproductive vessels for manufacture of slaves!

Luis Esparza

Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 11:52 p.m.

* A (not) I law.

Don B. Arfkahk

Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 11:26 p.m.

This is great! We should be fining these kids for that which does not concern us because it means I get to make lots of money displacing higher paid workers with underpaid teenagers! This should not be a simple issue of parenting, nor should anything. Fines for kids who ride bikes without helmets! Fines for kids who watch too much TV! Fines for kids who don't show up to school! Hey, why stop at fines - let's stop beating around the bush and set up some forced labor camps! That'll show 'em!

Don B. Arfkahk

Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 11:57 p.m.

Why not? We're Americans! We know the only solution to behavior problems is fines and jail. Forgot to mention we already have the forced labor camps - our prisons frequently require inmates to work 16 hour days for 10 cents an hour, their labor contracted out to private companies who use it to displace regular employees (Boeing for example), making me rich. The problem is, despite our having the highest incarceration rate in the world, that we don't incarcerate enough people. The only solution is to criminalize more and more human behavior, and say it's "for their own good."

Luis Esparza

Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 11:49 p.m.

LOL, put all the kids in jail.


Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 11:14 p.m.

Sincerely: this is an issue of national scope and shouldn't be the subject covered in a highly compressed summary by a local news publisher. Citing a "U of M" poll isn't enough: the poll questions should be published. Moreover: the opinion of experts should be published on both the issue and the poll (not all polls are equal or equally valid). This "poll mania" may serve to attract readers: but the actual results show that the strategy attracts many who will comment casually and for personal agenda reasons only. Any parent who has experienced the stalking of their daughter will CERTAINLY advise against letting "teens" freely distribute images of themselves & their friends with "sexual content" - electronically or through any other means. Any parent whose son has committed sexual assault will say the same. To say otherwise is not only NUTS but irresponsible. I've been told by some reporters that they do not have time to gather details in many stories AND that sources are "information poor" - even for local stories. This is evidence: that the "model" and the company's infrastructure isn't working. Unfortunately: this causes readers to criticize individual reporters when, in fact, it's not them but the "environment" and assumptions they work under which are at fault.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 1:34 p.m.

Thanks, Tru2Blu76, for your reply to mine. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised (and I'm not) that this already has been addressed and rejected, as the suggestions I mentioned are pretty obvious. Therefore, it appears their business model is one where minimizing costs (in terms of both money and time) have a very high priority. I don't understand the rationale, though, as a little investment (of money and, especially, time) up front likely would yield substantial benefits later. I see riding the same societal trend pervading society: information on a broader scale but at a significantly shallower depth. Perhaps they are giving to the readership what they think the readership wants. While there always will be exceptions (e.g., you and I), maybe they're right. Disappointing.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 12:43 p.m.

The questions from the survey are available on the National Poll on Children's Health website. Visit and click on the "Survey Questions" tab.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 6:05 a.m.

Thank you, DBH, because your thoughts on this exactly match my own. I've been told directly by one " source" (here @ that I'm unreasonably expecting just what you've outlined. So - join the club. From the "negative 4" votes I've gotten for my post: it's clear I / we are in the minority in our expectations. I was among the first supporters of the "idea" for I still respect the people running the show and those working "on the show." I just wish (and hope) that the apparent downward trend will turn around.


Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 11:53 p.m.

The reporters need to develop sources as old-time reporters did. Meet with them face-to-face, agree to keep the source of shared information confidential (if requested), treat the source(s) with respect, take them out for lunch or dinner every so often, that sort of thing. You ain't gonna get it done by looking at daily police listings, emails, tweets and Facebook postings. That's not reporting; that's transcribing.

Mike S

Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 10:40 p.m.

Young people today. Back when I was a kid we had to use a modem to dial up and get charged by the minute just to talk naughty in chat rooms, they called it "cyber sex". I still remember my first time... [gets faraway look]... but you probably don't want to hear about that.


Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 10:12 p.m.

Should it be different if someone send a picture of themselves versus someone who distributes a picture of someone else? It seems different, when for example, a girl sends her boyfriend a picture of herself than when the boyfriend decides to send a copy to all of her classmates. Even if the distribution is considered a crime, we need to get it out of the sex crime category because of all the lifelong implications of that.


Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 10 p.m.

This is crazy-making stuff! Should the two five year olds playing "I'll show you mine, if you show me yours" be convicted of a crime as well? All this legislation concerning people's personal lives is really giving me the heebie-jeebies!


Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 10:10 p.m.

Photos that can be forwarded, copied, and saved are more consequential than unrecorded private personal interaction.


Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 9:58 p.m.

"Ten percent of parents reported that their child has received a sexually explicit message on their phone, and 6 percent of parents said their child has sent a sext." That they know of.


Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 10:46 p.m.

Also: that they will ADMIT TO to pollsters on the phone.


Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 10:09 p.m.

Amen. The kids are way ahead of us on this stuff.

Michael J

Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 9:54 p.m.

Seriously? Criminal consequences? Let the kids do what they want, this is normal teenage behavior!


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 12:42 a.m.

justcurious Unfortunately your comment is an over simplification. Kids are appropriately curious and impulsive and swayed by peers and group behavior. This is true of some of the "best" kids from the "best" families.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 12:27 a.m.

I beg to disagree. Kids who have a solid experience with parents who teach them right from wrong do not tend to so these kinds of things. Kids who have parents who'd don't give a da&# MAY do it.


Tue, Mar 20, 2012 : 10:07 p.m.

We don't let kids do what they want when their impulses cause them to take risks that they have not been able to evaluate. We don't let a 10 year old drive the car even though it is normal for some to want to do it. Discriminating between risky behavior that we need to curb and risky behavior that we let go is the somewhat difficult responsibility of a civilized society. This doesn't mean there must be criminal consequences. Technology got out ahead of us and we must strive to find genuine deterrents and not settle for trivial scoldings.