“Sexting”: (which is a word combination of sex and texting) is the act of sending sexually explicit or sexually provocative photos electronically, primarily between cell phones. This is primarily done by anyone with a cell phone or computer that is equipped with the ability to send or receive photos. While college age young people are perhaps the largest demographic engaged in “sexting”, teens between the ages of thirteen and eighteen may be the fastest growing demographic. This is just one of the reasons that it has become crucial for parents to understand about this fast growing trend.
One of the major concerns coupled with this behavior is the legal consequences. While the concept of “sexting” may be recent, the child pornography and obscenity laws that its participants break are not. Even if it is an under age child who takes a picture of themselves, if they send it out, both the sender and the receiver of the picture could be facing legal charges. The law,(which is meant to deter pedophilia), can be applied to teenagers, and charges for distributing or possessing child pornography can be made. If convicted, the child or teen must face legal consequences, including registering as a convicted sex offender, moving (if close to a school or playground), probation or even do jail time.
There are steps that parents can take to help their child not become part of this problem. Some of them are:
· Raise awareness-Once parents become aware of “sexting”, they should then spread the word to every parent they know. Parents can also find out the level of awareness of area schools and what steps are taken when “sexting” occurs on school grounds. Some parents and school administrators are blissfully unaware of this growing issue and others are operating under the faulty assumption that it will not happen to their kids or at their school.
· Communicate-It is important to keep in mind that a talk with the kids about this issue is better done sooner rather than later. You should not be surprised if your kids already know about “sexting” and do not think it’s such a big deal. From the constant exposure in music, video games, television, movies and the ability to access almost anything online, sex has been prevalent in this generation’s culture for many years. However, what they may not know or even understand is the legal ramifications of their participation, (even passively), in these situations. Also, they may not fully realize that nothing in cyberspace is truly private. There can be a huge personal cost when personal pictures are released and once the photos are out there, there is no way to get them back.
· Be open-It is very important that if you have reason to believe your child is a participant in “sexting”, have the “no consequences” talk. Parents must promise not to lecture, argue, yell or punish in exchange for their child’s complete honesty. This fact finding technique should be reserved for only the most serious issues when the need for information trumps everything else. Keep in mind that if your child is creating, distributing or is in possession of what is legally considered child pornography, a well informed parent can make a difference before it’s too late.
· Take action-You should become technologically savvy. While you may not become an expert, you should at least have a general or working knowledge of the technology that is now at the fingertips of most kids. For example, some parents believe a simple solution to “sexting” is to eliminate the text message feature from their child’s phone. However you should understand that most (if not all since going digital) cell phones are equipped to receive text messages whether the owner subscribes to the feature or not. The phone company routinely charges around ten cents for each message that is opened and small charges for infrequent use will often go unnoticed. Parents must take that extra step to contact the phone company and request a special text messaging restriction to be added to your child’s line. If your cell phone company does offer this option, you can successfully block all in and out going text messages.