Cell phones have become as common today as computers. They help us communicate in many useful ways. A trend has emerged in cell phone use called “sexting”. Wikipedia defines sexting as: the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photographs, primarily between mobile phones. The term was reportedly first used in 2005 and is now a common term around the world. The practice may seem harmless but it can be a big problem.
We hear about sexting most often because of teenagers sexting each other but according to an article by Jessica Leshnoff of AARP (American Association of Retired People) it is becoming common among older adults as well. While sexting may be a good way for consenting adults to spice up their relationships, it is inappropriate for teenagers and especially younger kids. California Penal Code section 311.11 makes it a crime to create, possess or transmit images depicting minors nude or engaged in sexual conduct. Federal law is similar to state law. This means that anyone sending photographs of nude minors could be committing a crime. Even pictures of clothed children simulating sex acts could result in charges. It makes no difference if the minor is consentually sending pictures of themself. There have been children charged with a crime for sexting.
Aside from the legal issue, there are other dangers from sexting. Once a text or picture message is sent there is no getting it back. Even if your cell phone has an option to retract or delete a sent message, once someone has downloaded it, it is there for good. A message can be forwarded to hundreds of people in a matter of minutes and if it is posted on the internet it is available to literally millions of people. The damage this can do to a child’s reputation is incalculable. Even if a message is posted to a website using a fictitious username, anyone with the right computer skills can trace it back to the computer or cell phone it was posted from.
So how can you, as a parent, prevent such a thing from happening? Here is a summary of some tips from the Total Life Counseling Center I found on their website; http://www.totallifecounseling.com/2009/05/parenting-tips-to-deal-with-sexting-teens/
Talk openly with your kids about sexting and the legal consequences of it. Help them to understand it is not just harmless flirting and is actually a crime. Maintain an open line of communication with your child.
I also recommend you only allow your child basic functions on a cell phone. Most phones have options to prevent the camera from functioning, disable internet access, or even prevent texting. Except in very limited circumstances, no child actually needs a cell phone. I recommend parents carefully evaluate allowing their kids to have a cell phone and limit their phone functionality to only those functions that are necessary. Also, frequently check their cell phone to see who they are calling, if they have been texting and what they have been saying. Remember, being their parent is more important than being their friend. Just because their friends are allowed full functionality on their cell phones doesn’t mean that is the right thing for your child. With growing up comes responsibility for one’s actions. Staying actively involved in your child’s life can help them gain confidence and responsibility that will serve them well as adults.
Community Service Officer John Thomas is a long time resident of Temecula and is a Crime Prevention Officer with the Temecula Police Department Crime Prevention Unit. He can be reached at (951) 506-5132