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"Sexting" is the act of taking/sending sexually explicit photos electronically, primarily through cell phones. This is a serious challenge facing today's youth. Young people fail to recognize the danger of sending intimate photos electronically. Photos sent are easily shared, but impossible to retract. In addition to having potentially destructive social and legal consequences, sexting is a crime. Sexting may be the most underreported activity among teens with such potentially serious consequences. Taking a naked "selfie" and sharing it with one friend may seem like harmless behavior. However, these photos are often shared with friends, friends of friends, or may be posted on social media. The teen in the photo has no control over who sees the photo or where it may end up. They never imagine a topless "selfie" making its way around their school and beyond. It could appear later in life during a college or employment application process. Sexting can haunt them for the rest of their lives. (brochure)
While sexting is criminal behavior, existing laws have been too extreme. In the First Judicial District we began looking at the challenges presented by youth sexting and the existing Colorado law in 2009. The current law is designed for charging sexual predators, not youth engaged in sexting. We have developed a curriculum outside of the juvenile justice system for youth engaged in sexting which addresses the behavior underlying this conduct. This program, called Sexting Solutions, addresses the underlying issues that lead to sexting. The five or six week program helps build boundaries and self-esteem. Parents must participate in the first and last session.
Just as you need to talk openly and honestly with your kids about real-life sex and relationships, you should discuss online and cell phone activity. Make sure your kids understand that messages and pictures they send over the Internet or their cell phones are not truly private or anonymous and could be forwarded and shared with others, including school administrators and potential employers. Also ensure they understand the short-term and long-term consequences of their actions.
As important as it is to know who your children are spending time with when away from home, you should learn who your kids are interacting with online and on the phone. Supervising and monitoring your kids' whereabouts in real life and in cyberspace doesn't make you a nag; it's simply part of your job as a parent.
Limit the time your kids spend online and on the phone. Consider, for example, telling your teen to leave the phone on the kitchen counter when they are at home and to remove the laptop from their bedroom before going to bed. This should prevent the temptation to log on or talk to friends at 2 a.m. With today's technology, giving kids unsupervised access to cell phones and other electronics is like inviting strangers into their bedrooms.
Occasionally monitor your teen's Facebook, MySpace and other public online profiles. This isn't snooping because this is information your kids are making public. If everyone else can look at it, why can't you? Talk with them, specifically, about their own notions of what is public and what is private. Your views may differ, but you won't know until you ask, listen and discuss.
Make sure you are clear with your teen about what you consider appropriate "electronic" behavior. Just as certain clothing is probably off-limits and certain language is unacceptable in your house, let your children know what is and is not allowed online. Also, be sure to give occasional reminders about those expectations; this doesn't mean you don't trust your kids, it simply reinforces that you care about them enough to be paying attention.
Rather than fearing or surrendering to technology, parents should use it to their benefit. Though there are several commercial Internet filter software tools available to help parents keep their kids safe while surfing the Internet, parents have had little success supervising their kids' use of cell phones. The devices are mobile and tech-savvy kids can easily delete incoming text messages and images. But help is available. Parents must be vigilant. Technology, along with risks and rewards, is here to stay.
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