Do you always know where your phone is and does your teenager have their phone continuously in the palm of their hand? Isn’t it wonderful to be in instant communication with your friends, spouse, or kids? Our teens can communicate constantly with their parents, friends, and even folks they do not know.
Our teens are using their phones hundreds of times a day, every day, to text and chat with anyone and everyone and they enjoy the privacy and freedom that cell phones give them from their parents and guardians. They text while having dinner with their families and while in classes. They are texting with people a few feet away from them and around the world. They are texting during church services and in the middle of the night. They are even texting when they should be concentrating on driving a car. They send hundreds of messages every day.
Teens are not just texting — they are sexting. Sexting is the sending of sexually explicit messages or photos electronically, primarily between cell phones and is a fast growing trend among teens.
One in five teens say they've electronically sent or posted online, nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves, even though the majority know it could be a crime.
What begins as something funny or a way to flirt can spread like wildfire in this transparent culture built around social networking sites. It has also been used after a breakup to seek revenge with very dangerous and damaging consequences. Some teens are even blackmailing others with these images.
Teens involved with this behavior admit that sending/posting sexually suggestive content has an impact on their behavior. Our young people do not have the life experiences of their parents and often do not think or know of the consequences of hitting the "send" button. Once that send button is activated all control is lost and a photo shared between two people can quickly become a viral phenomena. Once those images are "out there" you can't "take it back."
Our teens are smart about technology but not yet that smart about life. They are also desensitized about sex and have different attitudes than the parents at that age. Teens are using sexting to court boyfriends and girlfriends and to explore their own sexuality. While you may assume that it is confined to high schoolers, middle school students are actually abusing the practice the most.
Do you feel powerless as a parent? Educate yourselves and your kids. Clarify with them your family values and expectations in regards to sex, relationships, and the use of cell phones. Discuss what is a "healthy relationship." Make the consequences clear cut and understood.
Look at their cell phones anytime (you are the parent and are probably paying the phone bill) and let them know, if it is not something they want to show mom and dad, don't post online or on a cell phone.
Remind them that no message is truly private or anonymous and that others can and do forward these messages and images. Compromising photos can easily come back to haunt your teen for years as they apply for college or that first job, as well as becoming a legal nightmare. There are more and more young people added every week to the sex offender list in many states.
Know who your kids are communicating with — check out parental controls offered by your mobile provider — many allow you to limit the amount and type of text messages your student can send or disable attachments on text messages. Check out NetSmartz.org and commonsense.org for more help. Communicate with your teen and educate yourself so that we can all use the technology at hand safely.
Enjoy the beauty and crispness of winter by going for a walk with that awesome teenager in your home.
Jayne Dwyer-Reff, RN,