Can you imagine a world where everything we say and share - thoughts, opinions, images - is 'recorded' for others to snag and use at will? Can you imagine your mistakes captured and played back over and over again for you to relive and anyone else to see?
Most of us would probably say that we couldn't imagine it and certainly wouldn't want to live in a world like that, but we do and so do our kids. The Internet is that world and our kids are growing up there. They are exploring, pushing limits, and taking risks on the Internet – all behaviors associated with gaining independence.
This road to independence gets complicated and often results in devastating consequences when teens use the Internet to explore sexual experiences. Today's teens are increasingly using the Internet to share sexually suggestive text messages and/or risqué photos and videos of themselves. This activity is occurring more and more over cell phones (known as 'sexting') – cell phones are mobile and can be used spontaneously.
The consequences of this behavior have been played out in recent headlines and range from child pornography charges, to registering as a sex offender, to taunting by peers and to suicide (see below for recent news stories).
What do we do as parents?
Answering the question of what we can do as parents to stop this behavior is difficult and goes well beyond suggesting that teens not post personal information on the Internet.
A colleague asked me just the other day what I was going to say to my oldest daughter about 'sexting' (she's twelve). I took a moment and thought about her as she is today and responded fairly quickly with, "my daughter would never do that" (yes, I actually said it). I laughed at how quickly that statement came out and spent the rest of the day thinking about it ....but, what if she was in love...but, what if she succumbed to pressure.....but, what if she put her trust in the wrong person? There are so many factors that are out my control, so what can I do or say that will resonate with her if the idea of 'sexting' ever comes up?
I've decided to start using the headlines, as disturbing as they are, as teachable moments (just like I have done recently with celebrity teenage pregnancy and instances of domestic violence). I also came up with some questions that I believe will help break through the layers of complexity:
- Would you want to share your most personal, intimate moments through a medium that is permanent, irreversible, reproducible and potentially global in reach?
- If someone asked you to share intimate content, do you think they would really keep it private and confidential? What if you had a disagreement with them and/or you both stopped talking to each other, do you have trust they would not disclose the information?
- If someone sent you intimate content would you share it with at least your best friend?
- Do you believe the person asking you to participate in this activity respects you?
- Do you understand that, in some instances, this behavior it is illegal?
- Do you want to risk a stranger viewing and then determining who can see you most personal, intimate moments? How about your parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters? What if everyone in your school saw it? This has happened to others and can happen to you. Once you share content with just one person over the Internet, you no longer have control over who they share it with and where they post it.
These are all questions that I am going to bring into my discussion about 'sexting'. I would love to hear your ideas.
Recent News Articles: