Sending and receiving text messages via one’s cell phone has become extremely popular, especially among adolescents. In addition to sending text-based messages, many cell phones also allow users to send pictures and videos. While there are many positives aspects associated with this ability to connect, communicate, and share instantly, it also creates many potential problems. One major issue of concern that has emerged is referred to as “sexting.”
Sexting: When people take and send sexually revealing pictures of themselves or send sexually explicit messages via the Internet or text messages.
A recent survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy found that 22 percent of teen girls and 20 percent of teen boys have sent nude or semi-nude photos over the Internet or their cell phones. Kids “sext” to show off, to entice someone, to show interest in someone, or to prove their commitment. Sending seductive pictures or messages is problematic enough, but the real challenge comes when this inappropriate content is shared broadly. When revealing photos are made public, the subject of them almost always ends up feeling humiliated. Furthermore, sending sexual images to minors is against the law, and some states have begun prosecuting children for child pornography or felony obscenity.
It is extremely important for everyone – especially minors – to become aware of the penalties that can come from being convicted or adjudicated of sexting. If a minor who is not a child is found guilty of the offense of sexting, penalties range from a fine (not to exceed $500) to up to one year in jail. If an individual is convicted of the felony offense of possession or promotion of child pornography, penalties range from 2 to 20 years in prison.
- Don’t wait for an incident to happen before you talk with your child about the consequences of sexting.
- Remind teens that once an image is sent, it can never be retrieved, and they lose control of it. Ask them how they would feel if their teachers, parents, or even the entire school saw the picture.
- Talk about pressures to send revealing photos. Let teens know that you understand how they can be pushed or dared into sending something. Tell them that no matter how strong the social pressure to sext, the potential social humiliation can be hundreds of times worse.
- Teach students that the buck stops with them. If someone sends them a photo, they should delete it immediately. It is better to be part of the solution than the problem. Besides, if they do send it on, they’re distributing pornography — and that’s against the law.