More and more, the students I talk to in classroom discussion time are telling me of the picture requests they are getting. And no, I don’t mean of their pet Yorky or family night around the Monopoly board. Sexy pictures. Naked pictures. Some parents (like me) believe in maintaining the right to do spot checks of our children’s phones, knowing that safety is more important than our son or daughter’s perceived right to privacy. But would you know where to find “inappropriate” pictures in you child’s phone? One of my friends sent me an article about apps like calculator%, hicalculator and calculator+, that are meant to look like calculators, but are actually code-locked gateways to a stash of private photos they don’t want anyone, especially parents, to see. I’d advise a little concerned snooping…just to be sure. There is a LOT of pressure to conform and pass around, or even worse, produce, these pictures.
While previous studies have looked at correlations between high schoolers who sext (send sexually explicit photos or comments via texting) and sexual activity, a new study looks at middle school students and finds the same correlation. Middle school students who sext are more likely to be sexually active themselves. Even though the overall percentage of middle school students who are sexually active remains small compared to older teens, those who have sent or received sexual texts are more likely to be in that category. It should also be noted that the consequences for teens who start having sex in middle school tend to be greater than for those who become sexually active later in life. They tend to have more partners in a lifetime, are more likely to contract an STD, and are more likely to eventually experience a teen pregnancy.
Amplify Youth Development tries to cover sexting in our lessons, reminding teens of the risks — emotional, social and legal. But we are not a substitute for teens hearing it from their parents! Don’t rely on your child being present (and awake!) during the one moment a teacher brings up sexting. Take the initiative to discuss sexting, no matter how awkward the conversation might be.
A note from personal experience: teens are not always aware of just how inappropriate a comment or photo might be in the eyes of other people. You can believe the best in your teen’s intentions, but they may still be susceptible to sending a text that makes you, or the recipient, blush. Explaining why a text like that is inappropriate might be one of the most painfully embarrassing moments you have with your child, but if you don’t explain it, who will? Teens are not going to learn decency from late night television or sitcoms…
It may be that you already know about Kik, which is a smartphone messaging app, like the old AOL Instant Messenger but for phones, and with the ability to add pictures and video. I felt hopelessly behind the times when my middle school class today told me in so many words that Facebook is old school, but that Kik, Twitter and Instagram are the latest avenues of communication for teens (at least middle schoolers). When I got on the internet at home to look up “teens using kik, twitter,” in the first six links that popped up three had the word nudes in the title! Here are two articles you can look at that discuss Kik: One, a blog entry by Mcafee, discusses how to manage Kik so that it’s safer. It also shows what the icon looks like so you can see if it’s on your teen’s phone. The other article on bewebsmart.com is more skeptical about Kik Messenger, noting that it is rated 17+ in the app store (at least for Iphone, Ipad and ITunes). The article also talks about how to block the download of apps based on their rating.
I realize that I’ve posted almost every month lately about dangerous uses of media. But here’s another one. Snapchat (and it’s rival, Poke). These phone apps promise that any photo or video you send, “disintegrates” in seconds. So guess what teens think they can do safely now? Send sexual pictures. I’ve even seen the term “safe sexting” used. No worries, since no one can pass it on to be seen by others or live forever in cyberspace. Or that’s what they think. In fact, Snapchat gives a false sense of security. Anyone can take a “screen shot” of what you send before it disappears, and then it can be passed on just like any other photo. As with any sharing of information, Snapchat can be used for good, or for ill. Here is an MSNBC video about this wildly popular app that will tell you more: LINK
This article from TechCrunch reveals a phenomenon that isn’t all that surprising, although it is something that I am sure we all hoped wouldn’t happen to such an extent. Sexual pics, including those teens take of themselves, are reposted. Of course, that’s what we all feared would happen and was one of the reasons we told teens not to take such pictures in the first place…but was there any evidence that it was actually happening?
Now, the Internet Watch Foundation has given that evidence. Up to 88% of teens’ sexual pictures are reposted by “parasite websites,” even if the original picture was in a “safe” place. Teens may feel a false sense of security when they share an image via a social network that they think is secure, but once a digital image exists, in can be nearly impossible to erase entirely. So whether or not you have already discussed the dangers with your teen, talk to them again about protecting themselves by never taking sexual pictures in the first place. There is simply no safe way to take, store, or share such images!
And one more thing to keep in mind and discuss with your teen — why? Why take such pictures? The two main reasons that come to mind are peer pressure and the desire to be cool (as defined by a culture rife with pornography). So when you talk to your child, make sure they understand that no one, not even a boyfriend or girlfriend, should ask them to take sexual pictures. If someone asks them to do so, report it to an adult. And if they think it is cool, help them to understand that sexuality is not a tool to be used for fortune, fame or respect. That might be difficult in today’s age, but we must stop defining people by their sexuality and start holding up role models who exemplify something other than sexual appeal or prowess.
A new survey of almost 2,000 middle and high school students found that “56 percent of the girls and 40 percent of the boys said they had experienced at least one incident of sexual harassment during the school year.” And that’s just one 9-month school year. It isn’t unreasonable to assume that over a period of 6 or 7 years (middle school and high school) virtually all of our teens experience sexual harassment in some form. What does this harassment look like? It could be anything from physical groping, to crude comments, to being confronted with unwanted sexual images, to being the subject of unwelcome sexual rumors.
The article discussing the research also included the report’s recommendation that “all schools should create a sexual-harassment policy and make sure it is publicized and enforced. It said schools must ensure that students are educated about what their rights are…with special attention paid to encouraging girls to respond assertively to harassment since they are targeted more often than boys.” The students themselves wished that there were a way to anonymously report incidents of sexual harassment. A proactive step that you as a parent could take, might be to call your student’s school to see if any policies or procedures are in place to handle incidents of sexual harassment…and to find out if the students are both educated about their rights, and informed about how to report such incidents.
I am a big reader, and love learning new things. In fact, I have just been reading up on youth and culture for about 3 hours straight. Here are some things I found out:
- Teens are sexting (sending explicit pictures of themselves to their peers) not just because of peer pressure, but because they are exploring what it feels like to be erotically appealing to the opposite sex.
- Parents must be fueling some of the sexualization of girls, because 8-year-olds don’t have money to buy trashy outfits.
- Some people who have previously perused porn unashamedly have concluded, in public forums, that their porn use has affected their ability to desire and appreciate their real life partners.
- After decades of decline, teen substance abuse is up these past three years.
I am feeling a bit depressed right now after all this bad news! Is there a bright side in this seemingly never-ending battle for the hearts and minds of our sons and daughters? Has our culture won the war? Do we throw up our hands in helpless defeat?
No. We can’t. We are parents. We love them, and want to see them have happy, healthy lives. We cannot control their behavior like we could when they were toddlers, but we have a responsibility to be wise guides. In the words of a sage writer: “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” In an often broken world, we can continue to point our children to the straight paths…the ones that will take them to the finish line strong in character and healthy in mind and body. It’s our JOB.
On my commute to a middle school this morning, I heard a story on the radio about the 20% of teens who can be called “hyper texters”…texting 120 times a day or more. A just-published study reveals that these heavy texters “were three times more likely than their peers to have had sex and also had higher rates of drug use, alcohol use and fighting.” The radio host posited a theory, that these teens might have common characteristics that drive both texting and poor choices: low impulse control and susceptibility to peer influence. This newspaper article quoted the lead author of the study with another theory: “If parents are monitoring their kids’ texting and social networking, they’re probably monitoring other activities as well,” said Dr. Scott Frank.” The article later noted studies that have shown these facts as well:
– Only 14% of kids said their parents limit texting.
– A third of 16- and 17-year-olds send texts while driving.
– One in four teens has “sexted” – shared X-rated content by phone or online.
Teens tend to use texting the way we used phones chats…to communicate, so blocking all texting may not be an appropriate response. But some kind of monitoring and limits might be appropriate. One parent told me that her kids have to “park” their phones in a basket in the kitchen at homework time and bedtime. Another parent checks picture mail from time to time. Yeah, I know that’s snooping, but her child isn’t an adult yet, and it’s a dangerous world out there.
Today’s post is a potpourri of information for you, parents. I couldn’t decide which topic I wanted to focus on, so I decided I’d share three different things with you. All the documents are printable, so you can run them off and keep them handy!
W4YM uses the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy as a resource quite often. Although it is not considered “abstinence only”, it is an excellent source of information about teen culture, pregnancy and STDs.
This week I noticed an article on sexting that has plenty of interesting statistics for parents. Are you wondering how prevalent sexting really is amongst our teens? Check it out.
Additionally, the National Campaign had scripts for parents who want to talk to their teens about relationships and dating. When reading through this, I thought some of the wording was a bit cliche, but it does set a framework for how you can start and continue a conversation. If you don’t like the wording, or think it may cause some eye-rolling, keep the concept but substitute some of your own words.
Finally, during our parent workshops, we inform parents that current statistics show that roughly 3 in 10 teen girls will become pregnant by the end of high school. A startling statistic, no? How do they figure it out? Read it here: http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/resources/pdf/FactSheet_3in10_Apr2008.pdf
Definition: Much like cybersex, but over a cell phone. Sending nude or sexual photos via text-messaging.
Don’t believe it? Do. I had never heard of it until today, when I found the term on two separate websites (www.onteenstoday.com, and www.cpyu.org). CPYU linked up to a truly shocking article in the Hartford Advocate. Read it here* (and be prepared). (NOTE: the original link is now gone, but here is a new article on the topic.)
Another article I read today cited that on average, kids are sending 50-70 text messages per day.
Now, obviously, not all your children’s text messages will be inappropriate. Many kids probably know that sexting isn’t all that smart of an idea (note Sarah’s comment in the article). And knowing this doesn’t mean that you should throw your kids’ cell phones in the trash.
But parents, it’s a good idea to talk to your kids about sexting, and the instantaneous consequences that result. Check their phones every once in a while to see what’s in them. You have the right to invade their privacy just a little bit. It’s for their own good.
*Please note that the article is used purely as reference and does not reflect the opinions of W4YM.