VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Back to class means back to the pressures and pitfalls of school for many students, and for parents it can mean a lot of worrying about what their kids are facing from their peers.
But one local police department is tackling the risks surrounding sexting by taking a different approach to educating teens about the long-term fallout from sending explicit photos and messages.
A recent survey suggests 10 per cent of teens take part in sexting during the school year, and those kids are twice as likely to have been the target of cyberbullying.
And that’s where Amy Powter comes in. She’s the Vancouver Police Department’s youth justice coordinator and she takes small groups of kids caught sexting and talks to them about prevention rather than punishment. “We don’t criminalize those kids, we don’t want them to have a criminal history because they’ve made a bad choice at the age of 14 or 15,” she tells NEWS 1130. “We want to be able to give them some education and support around why they’re doing it and what it means.”
Powter says there’s no benefit to penalizing kids for sexting. “This is something teenagers are engaging in. You can’t tell them not to do it again, that doesn’t work for a large percentage of kids — it doesn’t work for a large adults out there,” she explains. “It’s more about giving you the education and tools so you know if it happens to you in the future or a friend is about to do it, you have a better understanding and can make an informed decision.”
She wants kids to ask themselves how they could be affected by sexting down the road and the opportunities that could be missed because of the fallout from it.
She says the program has had some success and she would like to see it expanded to include kids even younger than the 12 to 19 year olds they deal with now.
“In reality, it’s probably [those in] grade 6 or 7 that we need to start having conversations with. I’m a huge believer in telling them more than they need to know at an earlier age. They’re going to learn about it from someone. I’d rather they learn it from a responsible adult than in the schoolyard where they won’t be getting the right information.”
The program, which is run jointly by the VPD and the Children of the Street Society, won the National Youth Justice Policing Award in 2015.