Almost all cellphones are equipped with a camera. Although this feature provides many positive possibilities, it can also be used inappropriately. For example, sexting–or sending sexually explicit images through text. Twenty percent of teens admit to taking revealing pictures or videos of themselves and sending them to their boyfriends, girlfriends, and/or peers 1. No parent wants their child involved in this kind of activity. But, children can use the cell phone in safe, positive and constructive ways if parents keep current, keep communicating, and keep checking.
Everything a person posts online contributes to an online reputation, which is both public and permanent. Nothing is private on the Internet. As children begin to explore and express themselves on social networks, blogs, and other platforms, parents should emphasize that clicking "send" means losing ownership and control over an image. Children should understand there is always a possibility of photos being publicized to people other than the intended recipient.
In addition, sending sexually explicit or suggestive images can be criminal. Unless laws are reformed, both the sender and receiver may be prosecuted for distributing child pornography, possessing child pornography, or contributing to the delinquency of a minor for inappropriate "sexts."
In an age appropriate manner, have open discussions with children regarding sexting: ask if they’ve ever received sexually explicit or suggestive photos, or if it’s happened to their friends. Together, decide upon set limits of cell phone usage and establish clear expectations and guidelines for texting and posting pictures.
Explain the negative consequences children will face at school, with the law, and throughout their future if they engage in sexting. Explain how the effects of sexting are long term. For example, the images may end up on Facebook, or become publicly accessible and continually resurface throughout a child’s life.
Specifically discuss the legal risks-there are already many instances of teens who have been suspended by schools, or prosecuted by the law for forwarding nude pictures or videos.
Let children know you will be regularly checking sent/received texts and stored pictures. Pay attention to whether or not your child is using his or her cellphone late at night-consider having a "cellphone curfew" which establishes a specific time when cellphone usage is off limits.
Be friends with your child on the social networks they use. Regularly check the photos posted and tagged. Google your child’s name periodically to see if photos have been posted on other platforms.
1 ABC News (Producer). (2009, March 13). The Consequences of Sexting [Video webcast]. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/video/consequences-sexting-7080436
2 Decker, Daye. ProNews 7. ( 2010, November 11). Sexting: Should Child Pornography Laws Apply? Retrieved from http://www.connectamarillo.com/news/story.aspx?id=537850