Your kids text and text and text and then they text some more! You probably have to pry the cell phone out of their hands. But do you know what they’re sending when they hit the “send” key on the phone?
You should know what your kids are sending, who they're sending it to and what's going in and out of their inbox. Checking up is more critical than ever because of the consequences that come along with the latest cell phone fad: Sexting.
Sexting can be anything from sending naked pictures to suggestive messages written in code. The NBC10 Investigators talked to kids about sexting and found children as young as 11 are "sexting" to each other. What a child intended to be a private message sent to one friend could be forwarded to entire address books in an instant and have a devastating effect on a young person's life.
A round-table of teens from Oxford Area High School told the NBC10 Investigators they're not into sexting, but say they've all have heard the stories and in some cases seen the pictures.
“I definitely think students all know about it and there's a majority of students that participate in it," Sam Stenson, 17, said.
And it's not always shared between only two people in an intimate relationship. It can be as prolific and public as the whole hookup scene among today's teens.
“I think from experiences that I know it is not only in relationships. It goes on with people who are just friends. And you're both home, and somebody is a little more convincing than you wish that they were. That's when you end up regretting it. I also think it does go on in relationships, but it's not limited,” 18-year old Perrey Spena said.
With technology, sexting messages can travel much faster than the old fashioned word-of-mouth rumor. The press of a button can send the picture to many people at once. And don’t assume that because your child is younger, this can’t affect them.
“It could be a senior, it could be all the way down in the elementary schools. I don’t think it has a limitation to age. I think it’s just who has the technology can get caught up in it,” Oxford's High School principal, Dr. David Madden said.
Sexters whose private messages go public face a slew of consequences that can reach far beyond social circles. In one case, a girl lost her scholarship to college when a picture was stolen from her boyfriend’s phone.
“He's sitting at the cafeteria, his new found friends pick up his cell phone when he gets up for seconds and out she goes with a single click to his entire contact list. Now consequences for most kids, maybe not so severe but for this young woman, the consequence was much more significant because she had actually won a scholarship in the spring to have a free ride to college and when the scholarship committee found out about the inappropriate photograph she had agreed to they decided to take away her scholarship,” Katie Koestner said.
Koestner works with Campus Outreach Services. She’s educated students and even parents at over 1,500 schools about computer safety and the dangers of sexting.
Koestner says there are some things a parent can do:
Learn the language. Kids use all sorts of acronyms and codes for texting and sexting that Koestner has collected in her Glossary of Terms for parents. WARNING: This is not G-rated, but we figured parents might opt for the information, even if some people find it inappropriate.
Be familiar with all the functions on your child's phone.
- Can it send video, can it edit video, can it send out e-mail? Find out.
- Can it send out text messages, how many, have you set a plan to limit usage?
- Can you set inoperable messaging capabilities after midnight? Your cell phone provide can tell you what the limitations are and what parental controls you can set.
Get over the "not my kid" thinking and get educated. A 2008 CosmoGirl survey polled teens 13-19 years old. 22-percent of girls said they've sent or posted naked pictures or video of themselves. 18-percent of boys. Sexually suggestive texts are even more prevalent. 40-percent of teen boys have done it and the numbers are nearly as high for girls: 37-percent. Nearly one out of every two teens admits getting sexually suggestive text, email or IM.
Be an active, not a passive parent. You can safeguard your kids with anti-spyware, filtering and monitoring software. Many kids encounter chat rooms and IM's in elementary school on gaming and other kid-oriented Web sites.
And here's something to really think about. It's Campus Outreach's number one reason for parents to stay ahead of the curve: "If you respect your child's right to privacy online, remember that corporate America, college admissions offices, thieves, and sexual predators do not."