Sexting, Video Chat, and Our Children
Back in the days before caller i.d., most of us anonymously called someone we had a crush on — just to hear the person’s voice – at least once or twice. As soon as they answered, we’d hang up, giggling with our friends. Perhaps, too, in middle or high school, you made out with someone at a party – and the next day, to your profound distress, they told everyone in the school. Or, when you broke up with your high school (or even college) boyfriend, he spread a rumor that you’d gone all the way – even when you hadn’t.
Times have changed
Those rites of passage, as silly and painful as they were, are so very innocent compared to today’s ubiquitous, ever-lasting online world. Now slumber parties can turn into Chat Roulette sessions, where “truth or dare” is replaced by “get naked in front of strangers online.” Boys are much more likely to engage in this behavior than girls. Because the Internet is the world’s largest public marketplace, sexting and video chat carry risks and a permanent record we did not have to worry about when we were experimenting in the pre-Internet days.
How prevalent is sexting?
No one knows how many teens and young adults are sexting – sending sexually explicit texts or pictures via text message. The study Sex and Tech: Results from a Survey of Teens and Young Adults (note that it is a PDF) estimated that, as of 2008, half or more have sent or received explicit messages. Perhaps most alarming: “15% of teens who have sent or posted nude/seminude images of themselves say they have done so to someone they only knew online.” In other words, some of our children are sending provocative pictures of themselves to strangers via the internet – which means those pictures have a shelf life of forever
Other surveys estimate a lower rate, saying that one in five teens have received an explicit text or picture: less than 5% admit sending an explicit message. A Pew survey said that teens with unlimited texting or “pay their own bills” are the most likely to sext. Regardless of the exact numbers, experts agree that sexting is becoming increasingly common.
Why is sexting and video chat on the rise?
New trends and technology are making it easier than ever to virtually hook up. For example, Chat Roulette’s stated purpose is to chat with people you do not know – and, as this article points out, often you “only” have to get through five naked guys to find someone with whom you want to talk. Tinychat next and the venerable (by Internet standards) phone service Skype offer similar capabilities. Unfortunately, screen captures from chat sessions with these services are posted all over the Internet, so one night’s indiscretion can become immortal.
Seriously, what can happen? Kids will be kids, after all
Mix sexting with the toxic judgmental behaviors of some teens, and you have a lethal mix. Hope Witsell, who was just 13 years old, committed suicide because of the chaos that resulted from a sexting incident, as did 18-year-old Jesse Logan. Hope sent a picture of herself, topless, to a boy in seventh grade. Another student intercepted the picture and sent it to other students in the school. Students relentlessly taunted her and her life fell apart.
Jesse Logan sent an intimate picture to her high school boyfriend. When they broke up, he sent the picture to other girls at their school. She faced the same vicious condemnation from her peers that Hope did.
Name-calling and public derision rendered their lives miserable. Both girls committed suicide by hanging. They never knew each other – Hope lived in Florida and Jesse lived in Ohio. But both were overwhelmed by the consequences of sexting. The lives of everyone involved – not the two girls alone – were irreparably changed.
The age old issue is that teens simply don’t realize the possible results of their actions. When it comes to sexting and online video chat, the short term consequences range from humiliation to criminal charges. Long term, today’s teens won’t be living down the unfortunate hairstyle twenty years from now. They’ll be dealing with the naked screen captures that will derail political careers, college acceptance, and even job opportunities. Deniability will disappear – it’s pretty difficult to say you didn’t inhale when the video has been widely available on YouTube for years.
How do parents help teens understand the dangers of sexting and video chat while encouraging their independence?
So, how best to help your teen avoid these pitfalls? Talk with your kids, no matter how uncomfortable it is for you. Read the study. Make a commitment to stay on top of social networking trends and risks.
Quick, common sense tips from the Sex and Tech study (have you read it yet?:)
- 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 in to the pressure to do something that makes you uncomfortable, even in cyberspace.
- Consider the recipient’s reaction.
- Nothing is truly anonymous.
- Talk to your kids about what they are doing in cyberspace.
- Know who your kids are communicating with.
- Consider limitations on electronic communication.
- Be aware of what your teens are posting publicly.
- Set expectations.
References and resources
Sex and Tech: Results from a Survey of Teens and Young Adults. Funded by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and Cosmo Girl. Retrieved February 28, 2010 from http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/sextech/PDF/SexTech_Summary.pdf
“Sexting” Shockingly Common Among Teens. CBS News, Jan. 15, 2009 http://bit.ly/c9jfkU
‘Sexting’ Increasing Among Teens. KHQ Right Now, Feb 22, 2010 http://bit.ly/9yLtpK
Inbar, Michael. MSNBC.com, Dec 2, 2009 ‘Sexting’ Bullying Cited in Teen’s Suicide http://bit.ly/9wr2Sq
Celizic, Mike, MSNBC.com, March. 6, 2009Her Teen Committed Suicide over ‘Sexting:’ http://bit.ly/bdbq62
Brunker, Mike, MSNBC.com, Jan. 15, 2009 ‘Sexting’ Surprise: Teens Face Child Porn Charges: http://bit.ly/aIrZHs
Kuang, Cliff, FastCompany.com Jan 27, 2010 Welcome to the Weirdest New Internet Pastime: Chat Roulette http://bit.ly/dfkJkj
Rao, Leena, TechCrunch.com, Feb 16, 2010 TinyChat Launches Grouped Version Of Chat Roulette http://tcrn.ch/9qsKXM