If you haven’t yet heard it, there is a new word in the English language: “sexting“. It is defined as the act of sending sexually explicit photos electronically, primarily using text messaging on cell phones. These photos are usually of one self, and are normally sent to a girlfriend or boyfriend. No longer do people need to go searching for pornography on the Internet – our kids are creating it themselves, and sending it to each other on their phones. And, Internet filters and logging tools that we set up on our home computers will not catch this – it is accomplished over the phone network, not the Internet.
Of course, what these kids are not thinking about are the unintended consequences. All too often, these images will be forwarded and will spread like wildfire among many of the individual’s friends and classmates. Just in the past few months there have been several news stories about this on all of the major news stations, including ABC News and CBS News. And then there is the story of Jessica Logan that aired on NBC’s the Today Show earlier this month. Jessica sent a nude picture of herself to her boyfriend – when they broke up, he sent it to hundred of other students in their high school. She was harrassed, started skipping school, and simply couldn’t face her peers. Finally, she walked into her bedroom and hung herself in her closet. Heart breaking.
Apart from the extreme emotional toll that sexting can have on a teenager, there is also the very real possibility that they are breaking the law – if the individual in the picture is under age, the image is considered child pornography, which has very strict laws attached to it. Distribution of one of these images to an under-aged person is also illegal. Not only are these kids causing themselves potential harm by allowing innappropriate images of themselves to exist “out there” forever, but they are also putting themselves in a very real danger of having a criminal record at a very young age, and possibly finding themselves on the sexual predators list forever.
Not very smart. But then again, teens are not known for thinking about the future. As parents, we need to know how our children are using the technology that we put in their hands – and help them understand the potential dangers and long-term effects of a split-second decision.