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Sexting- What Parents Need to Know


Caucasian teenage girls text messaging on cell phone
Blend Images - Kevin Dodge/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
I remember when taking pictures with a phone started gaining popularity. I thought to myself, “Why would anyone ever want to take a picture with their phone and send it to someone?” Now, using phones for pictures or videos is one of the most popular uses of today’s cell phones. There are many great things about this technology. I love being able to send pictures of my kids instantly to their grandma, to capture and share those precious moments quickly with the ones I love. But, like every piece of technology out there, there are healthy uses, and uses that concern us as parents. Sexting has become an unfortunately popular way that people use phones. When it comes to our children, we need to know what’s going on, and how to protect them. Sadly, many parents just go with the flow, buy their kids the phone, and have no idea what their teen is doing with it. Statistics According to the Pew Internet and Life Project, nearly one out of six teens who own cell phones have sent or received nude or nearly nude pictures via text message from someone they know. This same study found that older teens were more likely than younger teens to send sexually explicit text messages. One out of six. Think of all the teens and pre-teens you know who have cell phones. Hard to imagine, but many of them are likely involved in sexting. So what can you do as a parent to protect your kids? Education The first thing you have to do is educate yourself. What are your kids sending and receiving? It’s your right and duty as a parent to know. Don’t give in to the social pressure that you should let your 13 year old “have their space.” If you’re paying the bill, you have the right and duty to know what the technology is being used for. Utilize the web, and form networks with other parents of teens to share ideas. Communication and education can go a long way. Communicate The Dangers Once that picture arrives on the other person’s phone, you can’t get it back. You also can’t control how it’s used. You can’t guarantee that it won’t wind up in the wrong hands. Some of these situations, unfortunately, have ended very tragically. The story of Jessica Logan, in Cincinnati, who committed suicide after photos that she had sent to her boyfriend ended up being forwarded to lots of people around the school, comes to mind. She was harassed for the pictures and couldn’t handle the harassment that followed after her ex-boyfriend sent the pictures out. These situations are very serious, and, as parents, we have to be aggressive in communicating and checking on our children to make sure they’re being smart about their smart phones. Criminal Charges Depending on the situation, you could cause someone to be charged with child pornography, or you could be charged with child pornography yourself. Many people use photo backup and auto-sharing features on their phones, which means a copy of that picture might instantly appear on someone else’s phone. If your teen is over 18, and they send something to someone under 18, they could be charged with distributing pornography to a minor. Take Strong Action Besides many other conversations about healthy relationships that are based on more than physical attractiveness, I recommend having some strong conversations and boundaries around the use of texting technology in your family. I even recommend taking it a step further, if you feel like you need to, in order to protect your child. There are several programs out there that will allow you to monitor the use of the cell phones in your household, even to the point of getting a report of all text messages sent and received. I’ve linked a couple of these websites below, please take the time and research your options. You do not have to stand by and allow these types of things to happen to your child. Be the parent, they’ll thank you later.

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