TORONTO - The Canadian Centre for Child Protection is launching a website targeting texting teens to teach safe use of the popular technology amid growing concerns about young people sending sexual messages and nude photos via text.
The charitable organization is partnering with the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association on textED.ca. The site will provide educational information on the risks of text messaging, as well as safety strategies and guidelines to follow when using technology.
Signy Arnason is director of the centre's Cybertip.ca, a national tipline for reporting kids being sexually exploited on the Internet.
She said they had been getting a lot of anecdotal information from schools and law enforcement agencies of a "mass increase" in cases of youth texting and mobile-phone use that often bordered on the illegal.
Arnason said the goal is to educate teens that their decisions have both short-term costs and long-term ramifications.
"From many of the reports we either get or law enforcement have to deal with, you've got these kids making spur of the moment decisions, which may include maybe disseminating nude photographs," she said from Winnipeg.
"We talk about what are the components of treating someone well and what does a good relationship look like, so hopefully they can avoid those situations."
A poll conducted last fall by The Associated Press and MTV found that more than one-quarter of young people in the U.S. are "sexting" - sharing nude photos, videos and chat by cellphone or online.
An example of luring by texting provided by Cybertip.ca highlights the potential dangers of using the technology.
Last January, a 14-year-old Ontario girl engaged in text-message exchanges with someone claiming to be a 15-year-old boy, who was attempting to lure the girl to meet him in Kingston, four hours away from her hometown.
As it turned out, the man was 20, and had just been released from custody after being convicted of physically assaulting another girl he met online. He has also been wanted in three provinces on charges that include sexual assault and threats against a girl he met online and moved in with.
Bernard Lord, president and CEO of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, said it's important to make sure young people are aware of how to deal with texts that may be inappropriate and to encourage them to seek help.
"This is not an overwhelming problem. We just want to make sure that we've covered the bases before we have a major crisis," he said from Ottawa. "That's why we've taken the initiative and taken the responsibility to act in partnership with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection."
The website, launching Thursday, will roll out its pilot phase with 100 Grade 7 classrooms across Canada. The full site is slated to launch in September.