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For many parents, new technology and the lingo associated with this technology is a foreign language and is almost as difficult to learn. Becoming more and more commonplace in today’s culture is an act called “Sexting.”
Sexting is defined by the Urban Dictionary as the act of text messaging someone in the hopes of having a sexual encounter with them later; initially casual, transitioning into highly suggestive and even sexually explicit. Sexting, according to some sources, was being reported as early as 2005, and has since been described as taking place worldwide.
In a 2008, a survey of 1,280 teenagers and young adults of both sexes on Cosmogirl.com, sponsored by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 20% of teens (ages 13-19) and 33% of young adults (20-26) had sent nude or semi-nude photographs of themselves electronically. Additionally, 39% of teens and 59% of young adults had sent sexually explicit text messages.
This sexually explicit form of communication has been enabled through advances in technology associated with MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) through advanced cell phones.
Youth are sexting for many reasons. They may be pressured by friends or trying to impress a crush. Some teens are replying to sexual text message they’ve received, and yet others willingly send these messages to others.
Both photos and videos are being sent through text. The fact that sending nude photos is an obvious form of pornography does not even phase many of today’s teens. The website protectkids.com reports that the age group that view internet porn most frequently is between 12 and 17. A New Zealand survey found that only 13 percent of 12-13 year olds were bothered or upset by online nudity. Unfortunately, pornography has become such a pervasive part of life that most teens do not even blink an eye at participating at that behavior, and in some circles peer pressure to participate in viewing is normal. Some parents do not realize how technically savvy their children may be; however, many youth are not considering the consequences to their actions.
Youth who sext may face charges of producing, possessing, and/or distributing child pornography. Charges can be filed by local police, and if the offense happens across state lines, federal felony charges could be filed. If the image circulates, whoever possesses the image could be charged.
Legal consequences are not the only outcome that youth will face. Social repercussions, psychological affects, emotional trauma, and academic consequences may all result from this act. Images can be forwarded to any number of people through various means. Cell phone use for inappropriate text messages can take place during school, which can result in disciplinary actions. Emotional and psychological affects from embarrassment or harassment can also result. These images can even make their way into the hands of those who prey on children.
As a parent, youth worker, or adult it is important to be educated and aware of the technical advances and the opportunities youth are influenced with daily that can negatively affect them.
Here are some simple steps you can take now to help your teen in relation to sexting:
1. Talk with Your Child
Talk with your child about sexting in a relaxed setting. Ask them what they know about it (they may have not ever heard of this). Express how you feel in a conversational, non-confrontational way. A two-way dialog can go a long way to help your child understand how to minimize the legal, social, spiritual, and reputation risks involved.
2. Stay Alert
The bottom line is that people aren’t always who they seem to be. Be aware of who your child is spending time with, who they are calling and texting, and the amount of time your child spends using his/her phone. Do your best to have a friendship with the parents of your child’s friends and build an open community that fosters open communication. Talk to the friends of your child and get to know them.
3. Review the Rules
Ensure your child is aware of your expectations of phone use. Discuss the consequences. Understand the frequency and times your child uses texting and the cell phone. Ensure that the phone is not being inappropriately used at school or functions away from the home. Technology is not going anywhere and it is important that your child learns how to appropriately use it.
4. Ensure your Child Understands the Consequences
It’s not enough for your child to know it’s wrong, but help them understand why it’s wrong. Teens are developing their cognitive skills, ability to use reason, and how to determine a rational response to circumstances. As a parent it’s important to teach and help your child understand that this is wrong, why it is wrong, and how to respond to pressure and influences to act inappropriately. There are obvious legal, emotional, spiritual, psychological, and academic consequences to sexting. Be willing to enforce consequences should the expectations not be met.
No parent wants to be the last one to know that their child is sexting. Maintain open lines of communication so that your child is not afraid to talk to you if they receive inappropriate photos or are being pressured to send them.
Here are some discussion starters that may help you talk to your child:
- Have you ever received a sexual message or naked picture on your cell phone?
- Has anyone ever asked or pressured you to send a nude or sexual picture?
- Are you familiar with sexting?
- Do you think it’s okay to send inappropriate messages or images?
- What could happen to you if you send or forward a sexual text message or picture with your phone?
For teens, here is some advice related to sexting:
1. Think About the Consequences
. . .of taking, sending, or forwarding a sexual picture of a minor, even if it’s you. You could be kicked off sports teams, face humiliation, lose educational opportunities, be harassed, and even face legal trouble.
2. Never Take
. . .images of yourself that you wouldn’t want everyone—your classmates, teachers, neighbors, family, or employers—to see.
3. Before “Send”
Remember you can’t control where the image goes. What you send to one person could end up with many other people.
4. If You Forward
. . .a sexual picture of someone underage, you are as responsible for this image as the person who sent it originally. You could face child pornography charges, go to jail, and have to register as a sex offender.
. . .any nude pictures you receive on your cell phone or sexual messages to an adult you trust. Do not delete the message. Instead, get your parents or guardians, teachers, and school counselors involved immediately.
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