Are Your Kids Sexting?


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When you arm tweens and teens with cell phones (loaded with features such as unlimited texting, pictures and video) during a time when they are curious about sex, you create a perfect storm for “sexting.” Sexting involves the sending of sexual messages and pictures from cell phone to cell phone.

According to a December 2008 study released in USA Today, 40 percent of young men said they’ve seen naked or semi-naked pictures sent via cell phone, while half of all teens said they’ve received highly suggestive text messages.

Because of these high statistics, it’s important for parents to know how to engage their children in a dialogue on this issue. Is it common? Yes. Is it legally dangerous? Yes again. So how to deal? Here are five common questions you may have about sexting:

1. Are my kids receiving inappropriate pictures on their cell phone?
Your teens may or may not be receiving inappropriate pictures from their peers on their phone. Try not to sound accusatory, as many are caught off guard when they receive one. Do make sure, however, that they understand the possible consequences of saving inappropriate pictures on their phones (as you may imagine, the issue is more common among teen boys). Help them understand how doing so is considered possession of pornography involving an underage minor, even if the picture is from a friend or someone they personally know.

2. What’s an inappropriate picture?
Many pictures that teens wouldn’t think of as “inappropriate” can still be damaging, socially and legally. This would include pictures of themselves or friends that involve mooning, flashing, going to the bathroom, etc. I am also reminded of a few pictures I recently saw on Facebook of a church girl (she posted them herself), who with several friends, jokingly posed in their bikinis with dollar bills hanging out of their swimsuits in an attempt, I suppose, to mock strippers. This is when it’s a real plus to have monitoring software installed on your child’s computer and his or her login and password information, so you can discuss about what’s OK and what’s not OK to post on their social-networking page.

3. What happens when inappropriate pictures are forwarded?
In December 2008, CBS News reported the case of two Seattle cheerleaders who were suspended from their squad after nude cell-phone photos of them were forwarded. Make sure your kids understand the possible consequences that can occur from forwarding an inappropriate picture to even one person. Help them connect the dots on how the behavior can constitute illegal behavior such as the distribution of pornography.

4. Should I remove the cell phone’s photo feature?
If you don’t believe your child is mature enough to handle the features associated with sending and receiving pictures and messages on cell phones, don’t add them. If the features are already available on your child’s phone, consider contacting your service provider and having them removed for the time-being until you feel they can handle the responsibility. Note that this should be a temporary measure as it is only a matter of time before your child will be engaged in this technology.

5. How often should I talk to my kids about this issue?
Remind your child of the dangers and possible consequences mentioned here often. This is not a one-time conversation as tweens and teens have short memory spans. As stories surface in the news, use them opportunities for discussion.

According to a Piedmont Parent online poll that we conducted in February, 28 percent of respondents reported that their child had received a highly suggestive message or photo via a cell phone, and 23 percent of respondents were aware that their child had sent a highly suggestive message or photo from a cell phone.

Vicki Courtney is the author of “5 Conversations You Must Have With Your Daughter.” She is also the founder of Virtuous Reality Ministries and virtuousreality.com, an online magazine for middle-school and high-school girls.

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