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Parents Weigh Consequences of Providing Kids With Cell Phones

Cell phones are the latest rite of passage for today's teenagers, but the inappropriate use of the phones in two Cumberland County cases is raising new questions.

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FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Most teens are pushing their parents to provide them with cell phones. However, two separate Cumberland County cases may cause parents to be extra vigilant over their children's use of the phones.

A 15-year-old boy was charged Tuesday with 10 counts each of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor and third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor and one count of secretly peeping.

Sheriff's deputies said the teen had 10 sexually explicit photos on his cell phone and had been showing them to others. Investigators said the teenager even took a lewd snapshot at Gray's Creek High School, where he is a student. A school resource officer was alerted about the photos, and Cumberland authorities arrested the teen at his home.

Parents and students said they were surprised to hear how cell phones are being used by some teenagers.

"I never thought a child or a high school student would do something like that," said parent Jeff Wood.

"(A cell phone) to be used like that is not how it was intended," said student Chris Godfrey.

Authorities are warning parents to be aware of what their children are doing with their cell phones and how easy it is for them to get into trouble.

"Juveniles are taking pictures of one another and a lot of times, it's sexually explicit photos of each other – or a young lady might take a picture of herself or a young man might take a picture of himself and send it to their boyfriend, girlfriend, significant other thinking that's just an innocent thing to do," said Lt. Lynnette Hodges, of the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office.

Michelle Goodwin's son has a cell phone, but she refused to buy him a camera phone.

"I remember kids passing around dirty notes and pictures and now, they actually get the real thing," she said.

Authorities said the problem of kids abusing cell-phone cameras is getting worse. According to investigators, a middle school student in Cumberland County was arrested with the last 45 days for having sexually explicit photographs on his phone. Investigators would not reveal where that student went to school.

"They have produced child pornography because they have taken a photographic image of someone who is under the age of 18," Hodges said.

Investigators said the charges are so serious that, if found guilty, the teenagers could potentially have to register as sex offenders.