The Download on Sexting

by Dr. Charles Sophy

Filed Under: Sexting

  • R emember the innocent days of note passing which asked the infamous question, "Do you like me? Circle: Yes or No." Or even the more suggestive type message like, "Meet me under the bleachers, for a kiss, after school..."

  • With modern technology and cell phone use, those days are long gone. Teens have taken flirting to an entirely new level, a dangerous and scary level that is spiraling out of control. The trend known as "sexting" has opened a Pandora's box of problems for both children and their parents which has repercussions that can cause irreparable damage. Sexting is a play on the words "sex" and "texting." It involves sending sexually explicit messages (texts, photos, videos) via cell phone. The messages can be anything from implicative missives to the illegal dissemination of child pornography. With the accessibility of cell phones and the naivety of teenagers, it is easy to see how sexting can quickly get out oh hand. What they may view as innocent, flirtatious photos and messages can really be one step away from possible social and even legal disaster.

    So how common is sexting? According to a recent study LG Mobile Phones conducted on "Parents, Teens and Texting," sexting amoung teens is becoming quite prevalent. The research shows:

  • 1 out of 4 teens think that many people sext, and there's nothing wrong with it.

  • 33% of teens have received a nude picture of someone.

  • What Parents Should Know

    Teens will always find a way to chatter and gossip about every innocuous detail of their hormone-infused lives, and with cell phone use, texting is a critical mode of communication for them. Whereas, the vast majority of these texts may be harmless, there is a new element of risk with sexting because teens are not thinking about the consequences. They can instantaneously transmit a message to someone whether they are sitting next to them, or thousands of miles away. Unfortunately, our advances in technological society don't allow a text to be retrieved once it is sent.

    Educating yourself, as a parent, is extremely important because your own lack of knowledge to this reality can lead to circumstances no parent wants to face. When a child's reputation is ruined due to a thoughtless and careless act, the damages can be lifelong. It is easier to gather a million feathers scattered in the wind than it is to repair a tarnished reputation, especially when the World Wide Web is at our finger tips. Parents should be aware of the inherent dangers, not only to the social standing of their children, but also for some very serious legal implications. Below are some examples of such pitfalls.

  • Recipients can easily share explicit texts, photos, and video with their classmates... The result can be a message going viral - ending up in multiple cell phones, not to mention websites - and thus causing endless embarrassment and humiliation to the parties involved.

  • Once a photo or video is posted online, it can easily become a target for child predators.

  • When images taken on a cell phone involve a teen and some form of nudity, the images can automatically be defined by law to constitute child pornography.

  • Fundamentally, it is their innocence and lack of understanding of the implications that makes sexting so dangerous for teens. A once-private photo can be seen by millions of people across the internet in a matter of minutes, even seconds. as teens are still developing their sense of responsibility and maturity, such consequence as public humiliation can be devastating for what a teen thought was "innocent" and "private" sexting behavior. Their inability to make clear-cut decisions, give in to peer-pressure, or fail to see the bigger picture and possible long term effects needs to be countered by you, their parent. They may resist, but moreover, they look to you for guidance. Remember, parenting always begins with you. As the legal landscape around this issue is still undefined, many teens are encountering extremely serious ramifications for sexting. For example, teens in Alabama, New York, and Wisconsin have been arrested, and are facing, or have been convicted, on criminal charges in relation to sexting.

  • What Parents Can Do

    Foremost, parents can understand exactly what sexting entails and why it is potentially unsafe. If you can understand the term and why the propagation of these explicit messages is so easy and dangerous, you already are on more equal footing with your teenage child. Educate yourself on teen terminology and "text talk" because it truly is like another language. Communication is the crucial key. Talk to your children, about everything. Ask if they know about sexting, if they know anyone who does it, or if they have ever engaged in it themselves. Tell them about the dangers involved so that they are well informed. Knowledge can be a cornerstone in a teen's maturation process, and at times, what they do not know... will hurt them. If they are involved in sexting, create a safe place for them to be able to confide in you with whom they text.

    Teens today witness an array of reality television where real people are exploiting themselves for negative attention without understanding the true ramifications at hand. Growing up is a confusing time, and your job, as a parent, is to help your child navigate through those tumultous waters of adolescence a little easier. Polarizing the issue with blanket judgments that condemn sexting probably won't bring you closer to your child, in fact, it will do the complete opposite. If you can communicate about the issue openly, truly engage their ideas, and at the same time express your concern, your child may develop a more evolved understanding of just how serious and important this issue is... as well as see how much you care for their safety and well-being.

    Ultimately, teens are going to flirt and learn about sex, regardless of what most parents say or do not say. Do not be indifferent, parents, no matter how much resistance you may face. Yes, your child will do whatever it is they want to do when they are not in your presence, but they will also retain some of the warnings and wisdom you consistently convey to them. Accepting that teen behavior will involve communications over cell phones, and the web, where they are sexting, is the first step in being aware of the issue and being able to lay a platform for an open discussion. Equipping them with the knowledge and understanding they need to make mature and responsible decisions is often a parent's best tool to make sure that a child is protected, safe, and not exposing themselves to the dangers of a behavior that may seem innocent, but that, in reality, can be extremely dangerous.

Filed Under: Sexting

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Charles Sophy

Dr. Charles SophyAs a psychiatrist specializing in Adult, Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and Family Practice, Dr. Sophy currently serves as the Medical Director for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).

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