It takes only a momentary lapse of judgment with a cellphone camera to cause a kid untold pain.
A teen, goofing around, takes a nude photo of himself or herself then sends it to a friend. The phenomenon occurs frequently enough it's got a name -- sexting.
According to one U.S. study, one in five kids indicated they had participated in the activity.
The pain and humiliation comes when the "friend" re-sends the nude or sexual image to others or posts it on a social networking site. In Canada and the United States, the humiliation has driven kids to suicide.
On Tuesday, which happened to be international Safer Internet Day, the Manitoba government sought to draw attention to the hazards of sexting.Family Services Minister Gord Mackintosh said parents and institutions need to catch up to the technology their kids are using to help them avoid some terrible mistakes.
"Let's learn about its dangers and let's talk to our kids in a way that we haven't historically," he said Tuesday at a press conference with officials from the Winnipeg-based Canadian Centre for Child Protection (CCCP).
The centre has launched an interactive website for kids called textED.ca that is designed to teach them how to text safely and responsibly.
"We are starting to see new trends whereby children are involved in the production of what we would define as child abuse material or child pornography," said Lianna McDonald, CCCP's executive director.
"We don't want to criminalize teen behaviour. We want to educate teens and talk to them about why they shouldn't be doing this," McDonald said.
The centre and the province are forming a working group to advise parents and schools on how to tackle the issue. It's expected to announce a plan of action in the next six months.
A prominent case of sexting gone bad is the 2008 suicide of Cincinnati teen Jesse Logan. She had sent nude pictures of herself to her boyfriend, who passed them on to other kids after the pair broke up. Her mother, Cynthia, has spoken publicly about the tragedy. The interviews can be seen online.
McDonald said her organization has also seen the devastation sexting can cause here in Canada. Teens contact the centre, desperate for help to have photos of themselves removed from social networks. But that can be very difficult to do, she said.
Signy Arnason, director of cybertip.ca, a tip line for reporting the sexual exploitation of children on the Internet, said there have also been cases in Canada in which teens have killed themselves over the humiliation caused by sexting. None of these cases, as far as she knows, has occurred in Manitoba.
Those who text together
4.6 billion -- number of peer-to-peer text messages sent in Canada in June 2010, up 10 per cent from the number sent in March of the same year.
154.1 million -- Number of text messages sent by Canadians per day in June, up from 135.4 million sent in March.
3,339 -- number of texts the average teen sends in a month.
4,050 -- number of texts 13- to 17-year-old girls send per month (boys send 2,539).
1,650 -- average number of texts sent per month by 18- to 24-year-olds.
20 -- percentage of teens in one American study who say they had participated in 'sexting' (sending sexual images of themselves using their cellphones).
-- Sources: Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association; The Nielsen Company study (October 2010).