|New addition to parents’ vocabulary: “sexting”|
Dear Ate Anna,
My friend is complaining that nowadays children are growing up in the “digital” world and they don’t know how to interact with “real” people anymore. During summer holidays, her daughter spent a lot of time on the computer social networking with her friends on Facebook and text messaging on her cell phone. My friend also mentioned that she hoped her daughter didn’t do “sexting.” Ate Anna, I don’t know this term. What is sexting? This is something not good, isn’t it? I have a daughter who is now in Grade 9. How can I protect her?
Sexting is a combination of the word texting and sex. It refers to the sending of sexually suggestive text messages and sexually explicit images via a cell phone. This is a practice that is common for some teenagers. The media has created this new term, “sexting.”
Some teenagers have sent naked or semi-naked photos or videos of themselves to their boyfriends or girlfriends. Many teenagers said they did this because of pressure from their boyfriends or girlfriends, or they thought it was a “romantic” thing to do give a “sexy” present. Some other reasons for sexting are for flirting, fun, wanting to date or “hook up” with someone they met online.
Rosaline, there are many risks to sexting, including legal implications and the enormous emotional consequences. It is important for you to help your daughter understand that once the send button is hit, the materials/photos/videos will remain in the cyberspace forever and you cannot take it back. Even though the original intention is for a private purpose (for example, for the boyfriend or girlfriend to keep), there are many situations when these sexually explicit materials and photos are shared with someone other than the person for whom it was originally meant. For example, because of an argument, those pictures may end up by being sent around the school, to the parents or to other friends.
In other words, there is no control of where and how these materials are sent. A person cannot control what other people are posting about him or her. Future employers, colleagues, teachers, friends, enemies or strangers may all be able to find those photos and videos and the past postings. Also, there is the danger of the material falling into the hands of sexual predators.
Many teenagers don’t realize that it is illegal to possess or distribute naked photos of someone (including sharing naked photos of themselves) who is under-age. It is considered as child pornography. In Manitoba, the law requires anyone who encounters child pornography to report it or he or she can be charged and go to jail for up to two years. Rosaline, you can help your daughter understand that sexting can lead to a serious criminal offence.
Parents need to remind their children that any online postings of pictures or videos, whether through social networking sites (Facebook, My space, etc.) or cell phones, do have the same consequences listed above.
Computers and cell phones have become a significant part of our children’s lives. They help our children connect and communicate with their friends. Taking these devices away from teenagers is not a solution to the problem of sexting. Ate Anna thinks the best approach is to talk with your daughter about sexting. Introduce this issue to her before there is a problem. Help your daughter learn how her to make good decisions when online. Remember, always use two-way communication and be non-judgemental to keep the dialogue open.
Rosaline, you can begin the conversation by asking, “Have you heard about this sexting thing?” “Do you know anything about it?” Try to find out what your daughter knows and understands about this issue. If your daughter doesn’t know this term (teenagers may also have their own special terms), you may need to explain and give more specifics. For example, “Sexting involves pictures of a sexual nature sent via cell phone and is considered pornography.” Don’t forget to ask: “What do you think about sexting?” “What do you think is appropriate or what is not appropriate?”
Make sure you listen to your daughter, helping her think about all the possible consequences of the act of sexting. Also, remind her that the only way to keep embarrassing pictures from being circulated online is not to send them in the first place. You can also share your care and concern with your daughter by telling her that you want to make sure she is taking care of herself online.
Ate Anna Ate Anna welcomes your questions and comments. Please write to: Ate Anna, Suite 200 – 226 Osborne St. N., Winnipeg, MB. R3C MB R3C 1V4 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org