Sexting scandals: How will they affect students’ futures?

Jeanne Bonner

November 13, 2015

Your teenager is found to have sent or received a text containing sexually graphic images. He’s suspended and you’re beside yourself.

Eventually you’ll forgive him (maybe). But how will this play down the road, when he applies to college?

That’s what some parents are worrying about as sexting scandals erupt in Colorado and at a high school on Long Island, New York.

At Canon City High School in Colorado, at least 100 students were found to have exchanged nude photos on their smartphones.

At the high school on Long Island, students were suspended, in some cases for forwarding sexually explicit videos and in others for simply receiving them. Two students were charged with distributing child pornography.

Punishment for sexting varies state to state. In Colorado, for example, young people under the age of 18 who sext may face a fine, probation or house arrest. But the biggest punishment looming may be having to register as a sex offender.

For those students on the brink of applying to college, what does all of this mean?

To put it simply, college admissions experts say it doesn’t look good.

“There is a disciplinary question on the application,” Brian Taylor, who owns Ivy Coach in New York, told HLN. “If you have been suspended for sexting, let’s say, you have to say it. And I don’t know how you can sugarcoat sexting.”

Ivy Coach counsels students on admissions to college, law school and other academic programs. And Taylor said he advises students not to even have social media accounts. That’s because a 2013 Kaplan study found that 12% of college applications were rejected because of what colleges found on social media accounts. Nearly 30% of colleges say they Google applicants.

But Taylor said in some ways the stats underplay the situation.

“Many college admissions officers don’t want to come across as peepers so they may not admit it, but they are looking,” he told HLN.

Students involved in sexting incidents may have an obligation to address the problem regardless of whether a college goes looking for information.

“Whether colleges ask about it directly or not, it does need to be addressed,” Dr. Kat Cohen, Founder of IvyWise, told HLN. “A student who has gone through something as public and unflattering as a sexting scandal (and possibly was charged as a result of their activities) needs to address this event head-on, and not leave it up to chance that a college will find out on their own.”

Cohen said if someone else sends a tip about the bad behavior to the school, the school is obligated to follow up and look into the report. She cited an incident that occurred at Horace Mann High School in New York.

“A member of their community sent anonymous letters to several universities defaming a student’s reputation in order to sabotage their chances of admission to top colleges,” she said.

College admissions consultants have been dealing with tech-related pitfalls for a while.

Admissions Consulting outside of Washington, D.C., for example, offers social media audits.

“We are looking at their Instagram accounts and Facebook and we are just making sure everything is on the up and up,” the firm’s president, David Petersam, told HLN.

In the case of Web sites like Facebook, Petersam said, “We have seen some questionable things, and we’ll say, ‘You really need to clean this up.’ ”

In particular, Petersam mentioned what he called “the double middle-finger salute” on a recent client’s social media accounts. He said that’s a no-brainer — and a no-no.

The sexting issue is different because colleges would most likely not have access to those accounts or apps. But Petersam said he puts little credence in applications that supposedly are private. Take for example, Ashley Madison, the website for married people who wanted to cheat.

“It was supposed to be private,” he said. “But it wasn’t. I may be old-fashioned but I pretend that anything you put out there can be used against you.”