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"Sexting" is the popular phenomenon in which young people use cell phones and other electronic devices to take/and or send sexually explicit images, digital photos and video through the internet. Even though the taking and sharing of nude or semi-nude photos by youth may not be born of nefarious intent,the social and legal consequences for kids and their families can be devastating.
According to a 2010 study by the Pew Research Center, 75% of 12- to 17-year-olds own a cell phone;
It is estimated that approximately 90 percent of teens and young adults go online;
Text messaging is their most popular form of electronic communication; and
Among the surveyed teens who text daily, half reportedly sent 50 or more text messages per day, or 1,500 texts a month. 30% of those teens send more than 100 texts a day or 3,000 a month.
Considering the social dynamics between youth, a promise made by one friend not to share sexual images which have been shared with them by another friend, doesn't guarantee privacy. In addition, another posted online or shared electronically can never be taken back. You cannot UNSEND.
Youth may engage in sexting for many reasons. They may want to establish a relationship bond with a boyfriend or girlfriend, they may feel peer-pressure, or they may just want to share photos with same-sex youth. Regardless of their intent, this is dangerous behavior and teens and pre-teens are immature and may not make decisions based on what is in their best interest.
In the First Judicial District we began looking at the challenges presented by youth sexting and the existing Colorado law. The current law is designed for charging sexual predators, not youth engaged in sexting. We have developed a curriculum for youth engaged in sexting which addresses the behavior underlying this conduct. The 5 or 6 week program helps build boundaries and self-esteem. Parents must participate in the first and last session. We have had 148 students in the program in the past two years and, to-date, we have no repetition of the behavior.
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.
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