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"Sexting" is the growing phenomenon in which young people use cell phones and computers to send sexually suggestive messages, digital photos and video onto the Internet. The social and legal consequences for kids and their families can be devastating.
It is estimated about 90 percent of teens and young adults go online. Current statistics indicate that one-third of all teens or pre-teens in the United States carry a cell phone, and about 25 percent of all cell phone revenues come from this age group.
In 2008, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl.com commissioned a survey of teens and young adults to explore sexting. It was the first public study of its kind to quantify the proportion of teens and young adults sending or posting sexually suggestive text and images. Here are some of the results:
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.
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.
My Mobile Watchdog is a software product offered by eAgency Software, Inc., available for parents to download onto their kids' cell phones to monitor child activity. Software highlights include:
This beneficial software helps parents open the safe-cell-phone-use conversation with their children and lets them know that parent supervision is intended to help; it isn’t an issue of trust or punishment. During times of uncertainty, teenagers who know their parents have access to their phone texts or photos may avoid the unfortunate situation Jesse Logan faced and simply say “no.”
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