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Survey: One in Five Teens Shares ‘Sexy’ Pictures

A new survey on kids in cyberspace finds that one in five teens have "sexted" - sent or received sexually suggestive, nude or nearly nude photos through cellphone text messages or e-mail.

Most teens who sexted sent the photos to girlfriends or boyfriends, but 11 percent sent them to strangers, according to the study made public today by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and Cox Communications. Of teens who sext, 80 percent are under 18, the survey found.

Harris Interactive interviewed 655 teens ages 13 to 18 in April about their use of computers and cellphones. One in five told Harris they have been "cyberbullied" - harassed or threatened online or by text message.

Most teens are online: 91 percent have an e-mail address, and 60 percent have an instant-message screen name. Nearly three-quarters have a cellphone, and 72 percent have profiles on social networking sites.

Although teens say they recognize the dangers of sharing personal information online, they do it anyway.

Three in five say they know having personal information or photos on a public site is unsafe. Yet most teens using social networking sites told the survey they post photos of themselves and friends.

One in four teens say they know someone who had a bad experience because of information posted on the Internet. Bad experience can range from having a sext forwarded around school to being sexually victimized. This month, FBI agents in Los Angeles arrested a 34-year-old man who allegedly posed as a 22-year-old and began a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl he met online.

Teenagers underestimate the risks they take online, says David Walsh of the National Institute on Media and the Family. "The part of their brain that puts the brakes on things is under major construction," he says.

Many teens say their parents are clueless: 40 percent tell their parents very little or nothing about what they do online.

Parents can teach their kids the consequences of putting information online, says John Walsh (no relation to David Walsh), TV host of "America's Most Wanted" and a founder of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

"Parents need to sit down and tell their kids, "I taught you how to cross the street. I'm going to teach you how to be safe online,' " Walsh says.

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