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Teen Girls' Health

Your Life Online

What you should know before you send your next text or update your status online.
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What Goes Online, Stays Online continued...

"You should realize that social network sites are going to be there for a long time," Toma says. "You may have a bikini photo or a drinking photo of yourself that seems OK when you're 18. But in a few years you're going to be looking for a job, and that's not the image that you want to present to an employer."

Pictures you send on your cell phone can also take on a life of their own.

Sexting

It might sound like fun to send sexy pics of yourself to your boyfriend on your cell phone. It's called "sexting," and 4% of cell-owning teens say they've done it. About 15% of teens also say they've gotten "sexts."

Remember -- once you hit send, that picture belongs to the person on the other end of the phone. They can do anything they want with it --including sending it to everyone they know. "They can spread it around like wildfire," says Toma. "And that's where the real harm can be done."

Don't think sexts are safe in the hands of someone you trust, either. In 2009, middle school student Hope Witsell sent a topless picture of herself to her boyfriend.

The picture got out to a few other teens. They sent it to their friends. Soon, kids were yelling "whore" and "slut" as Hope walked down the hallways at school, and also posted cruel comments about her online, according to media reports. Later that year, Witsell killed herself.

"Kids may think it's funny to send a picture of a 14-year-old girl topless that she meant for her boyfriend. But for the girl who took the picture, it can be humiliating and horrible," Wolak says.

Here's something you might not know: The minute you send a sext, you become a child pornographer. "Legally, they are violating child pornography laws. And those laws are very serious," Wolak says.

You're probably not going to get arrested or go to jail for sexting, but the embarrassment alone should be enough to stop you. "Do you really want your girlfriend's mother, the police, or people at your school to see a picture like that?" Wolak asks.

Another way you can get into big trouble is by bullying someone online.

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