School officials in Bernards Township are refusing to discuss a middle school sexting problem involving several students who sent each other nude "selfie" photos on their smartphones.

Tara Moore, Getty Images

On Monday, district superintendent Nick Markarian emailed a statement to the media that confirmed the discovery of these illicit pictures on the mobile devices of William Annin Middle School students. He said the township police department was called to join the investigation.

District staff will now try to make the best of a bad situation, according to the superintendent, by educating all students.

"We know that young people are especially prone to making mistakes," Markarian said. "Our goal is to minimize the impact of those mistakes while maximizing the learning outcomes."

Markarian did address how similar incidents would be handled going forward.

Situations such as this one require a host of responses including but not limited to efforts such as:

  • Coordination and cooperation with law enforcement
  • Student consequences ranging from counseling to discipline
  • Meetings with parents
  • Teaching opportunities for the student body
  • Communication with the school community."

-- Superintendent Nick Markarian

With the district declining to provide further details, the question remains: why are seventh- and eighth-graders so interested in doing this in the first place?

"To a great degree, this is about kids trying to gain popularity, build their personal brand, and technology is enabling them to do some inappropriate things and it really has to be the parents that are staying on top of that," said Rob Zidar, co-founder of ThirdParent, a company dedicated to helping parents protect children online.

Zidar said kids at this age will do almost anything to be popular, and that includes sending out nude selfies.

"If that naked picture ends up garnering some notoriety then other people will be tempted to do it," he said.

The way Zidar sees it, possessing a cellphone is akin to driving a car.

"You can do some pretty significant damage with a cellphone, similar to what you can do with a car," he said, "but with driving we require them to get a driver's license, and there's no similar safeguards with a cellphone."

He also said kids don't recognize that a naked picture may stay on the Internet forever, and could be used in all sorts of negative ways.

"Twelve-year-olds may not have a lot of wisdom and experience, but they probably have the technological skills that are superior to those of their parents," Zidar said, "so parents start out behind in this and they've got to work hard to catch up."

Zidar encourages parents to look at their children's cellphones, adding it's within every parent's right to do so.

"As soon as a child has an Internet-connected device, we'd like to see parents talking to them about their risks: what's appropriate and what isn't appropriate, and the worst-case scenario -- here's what could happen if you do that," he said.