One concerned mother wrote to us about ‘sexting’ a dangerous trend among teens and pre-teens. If you have kids, she recommends that this is a trend you need to understand and discuss with your children.
Hello WhatHappensNow –
My husband and I have two boys, 16 and 18. When I heard about ‘sexting’, I was shocked. The trend and the consequences have been affecting teens and pre-teens across the country. An alarming percentage of their parents have no idea until it is too late.
Of course, when I found out about it on an episode of Dr. Phil, I immediately talked to my boys. I was sure my oldest would be aware of it, especially given that he is Mr. High-Tech. Instead, he told me he hadn’t even heard of the term. My youngest said virtually the same thing.
We live in a suburb of a fairly large metropolitan area, so I expected one or both of them to have heard about it. It was a relief to be able to forward website links to my kids and talk to them about real-life stories of teens’ experiences before they received anything from their peers.
The term sexting generally refers to young people, primarily girls, using their cell phone cameras to photograph themselves nude, semi-nude and/or in provocative poses. Often prompted by their boyfriends, they send the image to a young man’s cell phone. Whether to brag about their conquests, to get revenge after a break-up or for other reasons, some of the boys forward the image to others, often male friends. Upon receipt, those kids sometimes forward the photo on to others and/or post it on the Internet.
Our local newspaper recently devoted one-third page to the topic. The schools in our district are beginning to offer education about the trend in order to make kids aware of the consequences. Last year, children in one of our middle schools, grades six through eight, were involved. The girl who had sent the photo to one person discovered that it had spread through the school like wildfire. By the time she brought the issue to guidance counselors, the damage to her reputation and self-esteem had already been done.
The trend is also gaining increased attention among national news organizations. The Wall Street Journal is one of the mainstream media outlets that has been publishing articles about the trend and its consequences. (Visit the Wall Street Journal for an interesting story.)
A recent article explored the wide array of possible consequences. Since these photos fall into the category of child pornography, the laws governing possession of those materials technically apply whether the individual who has or transmits the images is a minor or an adult. The article cited prosecutors who favor applying child pornography laws in adult-child situations only since the laws were created to protect children from adults, not from other children. Teens face the possibility of being listed on sex-offender registries for years if convicted of child pornography for sexting. Other prosecutors say that, if charges are filed, they should be limited to kids who distribute the photos.
Kids and their parents need to remember that these images can be around forever, especially if they show up on the Internet. Whether the child involved is 11 or 17, that image can end up affecting college applications, job searches and so much more, including a criminal record. There have been multiple suicides and suicide attempts resulting from this trend, mostly among girls. Once their photo is distributed and/or posted, the children may be teased and tormented by other kids, adding to the humiliation they already feel. The children are also burdened by the feeling that they have embarrassed their families.
There is an abundance of information on the Internet. I forward new articles to my sons and talk to them about the topic periodically, just as a reminder. Clicking ‘send’ takes a second, but in some cases, the ramifications can last a lifetime.
Follow these links to find out more:
Washington Post Parenting Column
LA Times blog on school dealing with sexting
CBS News – Sexting Common Among Teens (this is from Jan. 15, 2009)
And here’s the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s view on decriminalizing sexting pro vs con
Thanks, WHN reader!
If you have questions and/or comments, email me: Leann (at) WhatHappensNow.com.