Sexting in Suburbia. Parents...Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid.
If you're like many parents, you likely bought your child's smartphone (and likely not their first) for emergency calls or to text friends. Sexting wasn't even a thought. And you definitely have safeguards on their laptop too. Bases covered, right? Think again. Your child's facility with technology is lightyears ahead of you so your safeguards aren't working.
Just last week, I heard about several middle school kids in a top local suburban school district caught sexting. Nothing new since these stories are sadly becoming alarmingly commonplace. But what caught my attention was their ages...11-15 years old. What? An 11-year-old in possession of naked pictures of classmates? I couldn't believe what I was hearing nor could I grasp that these kids are being charged with multiple offenses and will have criminal records for the rest of their lives.
And then yesterday came news of the existence of apps that allow kids to hide these sexually-explicit photos behind things that look like calculators or an album of family photos. So for those parents who are bothering to even check their kids phones or computers, they see nothing. And definitely not naked pictures of their neighbor's daughter or child pornography from the internet.
My head started hurting. I wasn't sure whether it was the thought of a young teen stripping off her clothes (more often girls) to take selfies of herself that had me most upset or that these photos were then sent to classmates. Or that these children -- and yes, they're children -- will live the rest of their lives with a record. Or that these parents were clueless about what was happening. There's no gentle way to say this ... this is scary as hell. And parents need to wake up because most are in the dark and it's getting darker.
I had my own experience a good number of years ago when my then older teen received unsolicited photos from a classmate. And this was before 2011 when the term "sexting" became part of our lexicon. I couldn't get to an attorney fast enough for guidance. Scared would be an understatement. There's so much to be concerned about today as parents all the while being bombarded with messages not to be a "helicopter parent" or to let our college kids alone. Forget it.
Parents have to get with the program here. If it's a lack of self-esteem or the need for acceptance (see Megan Maas below), talk to your kids. Especially your daughters who tend to be the "senders" and your sons who are often the "recipients". What messages are they getting from TV, the movies they're watching, or the kids they're hanging around with. They're far too young to understand the consequences of taking a naked picture of themselves or sharing a naked picture of a classmate with others. And, they need to tell *you* if they ever get a text or e-mail like this. None of this is the same as looking at an old Playboy magazine. It isn't funny, fun, cool, or anything else. It's damaging for everyone involved...and against the law.
Please go to Megan Maas's website -- www.meganmaas.com -- and read her blog. She's a sexuality researcher and educator at Penn State and is an expert in this area. Go to www.beabovethefray.org and bring Thomas Dodson to speak about the realities of the social media world for your children.
Sexting is reaching an epidemic. It's destroying young lives before they even get out of the starting gate. Parents have to be vigilant. Look at your child's phone regularly. Question if they click off of a website when you enter the room. Know if your child is struggling. Educate yourselves about what's happening and why. And trust your gut.
The risks are real and the consequences can last a lifetime. And if you paid for that computer and are paying that cell phone bill too, remember this...you giveth and you can taketh away.