This is the next installment of our HOTRFM Mail Bag regarding common questions parents have about social media, technology, and cell phones.
Q. I keep reading about teens “sexting” one another using cell phones. Is this something that I should be concerned about as a parent of both a teenage boy and girl? Who in their right minds would do such a thing?
-Disturbed Mom, Willow Street
SP – You should definitely be concerned. Sexting is the practice of sending sexually explicit photographs or text messages through one’s cell phone to friends or potential “suitors.” It is a rapidly growing trend among older teens and young adults. In fact, some researchers estimate that at least 20% of teens and 33% of young adults have engaged in sexting.
Teens will often exchange these provocative (or pornographic) pictures with their girlfriend/boyfriend as a way to experiment and explore their sexuality. They feel that this expression of themselves is “safe,” since the audience is supposedly limited. Teens tend to be very trusting of their friends and dating partners, and fail to see the potential for embarrassment and harassment that can come with sending these images. They truly believe that only the intended recipient will see the picture. Unfortunately, it is quite easy for their trust to be betrayed and the image sent to other phones or posted online.
Parents need to constantly be reminding their teens that texts, posts, and pictures that are sent either by cell phone or posted online are permanently stored somewhere (either on someone’s phone or on a internet server).
Now, you might be tempted to think “My kid would never do something like this. I’ve taught them better than that.” One group of researchers determined that the teens most likely to be involved in sexting are middle to upper class, raised in the suburbs or rural areas, good students, and have a high level of involvement in a local church. I don’t know about you, but that describes just about every kid in my church’s youth group!
So the question you might be asking yourself is “Why do kids who’ve been brought up in the church and have been taught good morals and values still get involved in sexting?” One main reason is that sexting allows them to experience sexual things while still keeping all their promises to remain physically pure. Promises that they’ve made to you, to the youth pastor, to their sports team’s coach, and (in their mind) to God. Remember, teens tend to think that things that happen online don’t really count!
The news, unfortunately, gets worse. Studies are showing that teens who get involved in sexting are much more likely to eventually engage in sexual intercourse. Clearly this is a topic that needs discussed in our homes!
Believe it or not, for parents there are some significant legal ramifications here as well. Sexting is illegal. In fact, it’s a felony, falling under the statutes that ban the creation, possession and transmission of child pornography, even if the child creates the image of themselves.
So let’s say, for an example, that a girl sends a sexually suggestive picture of herself to your son. He doesn’t share the photo with anyone but does keep it on his phone. Then for whatever reason his phone is taken from him at school by the administrators, who then discover the photo and alert the authorities. Who owns the phone and is now guilty of possessing child pornography?
Whoever pays the bill. That’s right, parents are legally responsible for what a child does with their cell phone.
Now to be clear, I’ve yet to see a parent prosecuted under these set of circumstances. It is certainly possible, however, and a number of lawmakers are taking up bills to address it. Sexting, which many teens and young adults see as victimless crime, can be anything but victimless!
So, moms and dads, if you haven’t already sat your teenagers down and talked to them about sexting do it today!
Relevant Verses – “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28)
“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18-19)
Next time we will address some more common questions that parents have about social media, technology, and cell phones. Got a question? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave it in the comments section below. I’d love to take a crack at it!