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Technology has changed almost every aspect of our lives and flirting is no exception - especially for teenagers. Some teens still send a handwritten note or pick up the phone. But today’s teens are much more likely to send text messages, post notes on a social networking page, blog about their love interest, or send photos and videos over laptops or cell phones. But many teens don’t realize how risky these actions can be.
Sexting – Not Simply Flirting
Sexting is the name for using cell phones to send sexually explicit messages, images, or videos. Many teens and tweens use sexting as a form of flirting with their boyfriend or girlfriend. As more cell phones and laptops have built-in cameras, sexting has exploded in popularity over the past several years. A recent survey suggests that 20% of teens have sent sexually explicate messages or images.1
Why is Sexting a big deal?
It’s easy for a young couple to get carried away and send intimate messages or photos to each other. Later, after they breakup, it’s not unusual for the "ex" to retaliate by sending these messages and photos to classmates or posting them on the Internet.
What if the cell phone is lost?
Now those same intimate photos are in the hands of a stranger. This stranger also has access to all the phone numbers, addresses, usernames and passwords stored on the phone. In addition, there may be legal ramifications associated with sexting. State and Federal laws do not always take into account the age of the offender. So, it's possible that a teen that sends or receives a sexually explicit photo of another teen, could be subject to laws for possession of child pornography. In many states, if a person is convicted of a crime against children, it automatically triggers registration to the state's sex offender registry.2 The same laws that are in place to keep our children safe can offer severe consequences for sexting behavior.
Finally, teens and tweens who send or receive revealing photos need to remember that anything that gets to the Internet is there forever. It could be stored indefinitely on any site. In addition to strangers, those photos may be viewed by parents, teachers, college admissions officers, and prospective employers.
5 Things to Consider Before Hitting the Send Button
Richard Love, retired detective and former consultant to the FBI Miami Crimes Against Children Unit, provides the following advice for parents to share with their children.3
- Don’t assume anything you send or post is going to remain private.
- There is no changing your mind in cyberspace - anything you send or post will never truly go away.
- Don’t give into the pressures of doing something - if you feel uncomfortable, don't do it.
- Consider the recipient’s reaction.
- Nothing is truly anonymous.
The booklet, Net Cetera: Chatting With Kids About Being Online, is provided by OnGuard Online and gives parents practical tips to help their teens and tweens navigate the online world. To download the booklet, or order free copies, click here.
Visit charter.com/security for additional tips on staying safe while online.
1 Love, Richard. (2009). Proceedings of the 10th National Conference on Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Prevention. New Orleans, LA: Author.
2 Feyerick, D., & Steffen, S. (2009, April). 'Sexting' lands teen on sex offender list. Retrieved October 8, 2009, from http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/04/07/sexting.busts/index.html
3 Love, Richard. (2009). Proceedings of the 10th National Conference on Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Prevention. New Orleans, LA: Author.
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