Wes: Several years ago we began running periodic stories about sexting. Over the years the problem has only gotten worse and of late it’s appearing with astounding frequency, now with accompanying pictures. As I’ve pointed out several times, when it comes to the statistical likelihood of online problems, we have a great deal less to fear from “predators” than from what our own teenagers put out into cyberspace. The reason? Nearly universal access to to digital video via phone and webcam. Pictures no longer need a developer, so teens are free to explore just about anything their eyes can see and commit it to a microchip.
Words fail me in describing what a bad idea this is. I would strongly encourage parents to sit down today with teens and share this column, underscoring the following message: Storing sexually explicit images of anyone under the age of 18 on a phone, computer or other digital device is committing an act of child pornography. If the teen is under the age of 15 any explicit acts may be used as evidence of a sex offense.
Worse (if that were even possible) is the fact that digital images copy from one device to another in a couple of seconds and the impact of “viral video” across the web is well-known phenomenon. A teen may think her boyfriend is the only recipient of a special intimate picture, and that might be true. For now. Once a breakup occurs there is no telling what may happen to the image. Moreover, kids love to get into each other’s phones, so the once-secure image may be easily found and forwarded to everyone.
Parents need to understand the extent of this problem. It’s not some other person’s kid who is engaged in sexting and sexual photography. I am astounded at how many upstanding young people who get into no other kinds of trouble are finding the irresistible urge to do this. All of us have done foolish things as teens. It’s sort of the name of the game. The problem is that in 2011 those behaviors can now be captured and kept forever. This point has not yet dawned on a number of our kids, and it is our obligation to do what we can to make the point. The best day to start is the day you hand over the cell phone.
Ben: Your phone is not sex. Good. Grief.
True, sexting won’t impregnate anyone, but the concept behind it reminds of the annoying kid we all sat by in third grade who would put his finger right where you could feel it on the tips of your hair and say, “I’m not touching you!”
Whatever the convenience of “not touching” someone’s virginity, there’s something to be said for the cheapening nature of it all. Those who spend all their time fantasizing about perfect Hollywood sex are going to be disappointed when the real deal comes along. They might find themselves actually preferring their rip-off to the real deal, and then, what’s the point?
Sex is a big enough issue as it is. Don’t get your phone involved. That’s just bordering on ludicrous.
Next week: What to do and NOT do if you’ve gotten caught up in sexting.