Does you child have access to a cell phone?  Do they use it to text?
Do they have access to a home computer?
Do they have an e-mail account?
Do they have a Facebook account, or another site used for Social Medial, such as MySpace or Flickr?

 

Any child using technology today for communication is at some risk of being lured or tricked by a sex offender, at risk of being cyber-bullied, or at risk of falling victim to peer pressure associated with sexting.  As parents, you should familiarize yourselves with the new technologies that are around, so you understand the potential for exploitation, as well as what your kids are doing.

Research shows that generally speaking, parents have very little knowledge of what their children are capable of by using cell phones and computers, little knowledge of the peer pressure they face to use these electronics for more than their intended use, or are naïve enough to think their children are not involved in this kind of activity. 

So….What is sexting?

Sexing is a combination word made up of SEX and TEXTING.  In other words, sex texting. 

Many young people fail to see the long term complications and consequences of clicking send.  It’s made worse when those caught doing it are underage teens because it creates allegations and in some cases, charges, of child pornography. 

Often, teens aren’t phased when you tell them that they have created or distributed child pornography.  It’s also not the only detrimental component to sexting. 

The results of sexting that are often the most traumatic for teens is the damage it can have on their reputation.  This is where parents must step in.

 

Sexting Explained

  • Taking and sending explicit photos, text messages or video of oneself (nude or semi-nude) via text message from a phone or through e-mail. 
  • Receiving, copying, or sharing explicit photos/text messages.

Sexting happens by use of electronic device with text and picture messages, video conversations and face time.  Through video, sexting is done via Skype, and webcams.  Other avenues include chat rooms, instant messaging (IM) and e-mail.

 

Why Sexting Is A Problem

Sexting is particularly a problem for underage teens because taking sexually explicit photos/video, distributing them, or forwarding them, even if they are of themselves, can be classified as child pornography.  Some kids, although mainly in the US, have been taken to jail, or been added to the sex offender registry.  This is also a possibility in Canada.

As a parent, you should know that when two kids are in a relationship with each other, it is not illegal for them to send explicit photos to each other.  It becomes a legal issue when, for example, there’s a break up, and one person begins to forward the photos out around the school and to their friends.

 

Keeping Children Safe

In an effort to better protect children from being subject to sexting, sexual predators, and cyber-bullying, social media sites try to enforce minimum ages of use. 

Online social sites like Facebook require users to be a minimum of 13 to have an account.  Be aware parents, that often children have 2 or more accounts.  One you know about (and maybe you’re even “friends” with your child) and others you don’t. 

Most children cannot afford a cell phone or a cell phone bill, so as parents paying said bills, you can explain to your child that you have access to all passwords and the right to browse the phone as you wish. 

There are programs that can be purchased at a monthly fee where each message that is sent to or from your child’s phone must first be allowed through your cell phone.  You can also purchase a cell phone spy.  This is a device that allows you to take the SIM card from your child’s phone, and download all text messages to a computer.  This includes deleted messages also.  It will not download photos however.  Just the threat of these devices and programs may be enough to limit your child from questionable use.  The goal here is not to invade your child’s privacy, or damage your trusting relationship with them, but to encourage safety for their reputation. 

Remember, most children are not threatened by the thought of probation or jail time for distributing child pornography, but their social status means the most to them.  It is their reputations we are trying to preserve.  They may not see the long term consequences, so it is up to parents to protect them.  Kids’ decision making skills, judgment, and ideas about privacy are still being formed.  Even if their intentions are playful and harmless, if messages or pictures become public, the results can be anything but.  Just as they might not consider how smoking now can cause long-term health problems down the road, they can be reluctant to curb their “share everything” tendencies now for the sake of their reputations later.

You can block your child’s access to sites, or the internet.  In the Settings of a smart phone, (sometimes under the category "general") there is a section called "Enable restrictions".  A parent can click this button and be prompted for a password.  Once the password is set, they can put "parental controls" on the cell, therefore denying access to the internet, or specific apps or sites (like YouTube).  In order to take the parental controls off, the person (parent) knowing the password would have to disable the setting.

 

Peer Pressure

20% of teens say they have sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures or video of themselves. This statistic is most likely underreported because, studies show that almost half of teens have received sexually suggestive messages.  And amazingly, nearly half of teens who send messages and images do so even though they KNOW such content is often shared with those other than the intended recipient. 

Why?

Over half of teen girls say they feel pressure from a guy.  Guys say they feel social pressure.  It’s almost become normal behaviour, a way of flirting, or “not a big deal.”

 

Want to keep your child safe from sexting and its consequences?  Here are some ideas to help:

 

  • Keep informed in child’s life/friends/relationships
  • Small conversations
  • Talk about sex and sexting
  • Discuss bullying
  • Teens are neurologically disposed to be more impulsive and less rational than adults, which makes it all the more important that they know the dangers of sexting.  Parents should communicate to teens that school-wide embarrassment, legal consequences, and viral distribution across the Internet are among the very real risks of this seemingly inconsequential behaviour.
  • Legal consequences can include:
    • Making child pornography (taking nude photos of oneself or anyone under 18 years old)
    • Distributing child pornography (sharing photos)
    • Accessing or possession of child pornography (having those photos on a personal computer or cell, looking at them, or showing someone)
    • Luring (asking someone to do a sexual act over the computer)
    • Voyeurism (taking a picture or video without someone knowing)
    • Threats (telling someone their pictures will be distributed unless they provide more)
    • Making sexually explicit material available to a child (sending adult pornography to a child)
  • Are you confident of who your child is communicating with?  Sexual predators  are real and they are in Hamilton.  They prey on children.  They befriend them online and lead your children to believe they are who they say they are (a 14 year old fitness fanatic for example).  Young people get caught up in the lies, in the romance, the promises, and ultimately are lured into a negative environment
  • Messages, video, or photos can be captured with recording devices and screen captures, even from a live chat.  Sometimes, sexual predators record and save photos and use them against children later.  They use threats and say that they will show your child’s photos to family, etc., unless they send more.  They can use your child’s photo and video to pretend to be your child.  Scary thoughts.
  • Do you know everyone on your child’s friend list?  Do you know their friends on their Facebook account?  Are you confident your child only has one account?
  • Urge your child to think before forwarding sexually provocative images of other people—how would they feel if that were their image instead of someone else’s.
  • Consider the recipients reaction.  Just because a message is meant to be fun does not mean the person who gets it will see it that way.  4 in 10 teen girls who have sent sexually suggestive content did so “as a joke” but many teen boys, about 1 in 3, agree that girls who send such content are “expected to date or hook up in real life.”
  • Have your children considered the other people they can harm or embarrass by their actions?  Parents, grandparents, extended family, friends?  Ask them what they think their grandma or grandpa, mom or dad would think of their choice?
  • Kids who may be model citizens offline can make big mistakes online, so it’s important to stress that responsibly behaviour extends to the world of e-mail, text messaging, video chatting and social networking. 
  • Make sure your child knows that anything posted online, or sent via cell phones or e-mail, can be saved, shared, and virally disseminated across the Internet.  That means that friends, enemies, strangers, teachers, parents, and future employers could potentially see their images and videos.  Anything they post will never truly go away—not even the police can get images back.
  • Have you heard of SNAPCHAT?  Your kids have. Using the app, users can take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, and send them to a controlled list of recipients. These sent photographs and videos are known as "Snaps". Users set a time limit for how long recipients can view their Snaps, ranging from up to 10 seconds to as little as 1 second, after which they will be hidden from the recipient's device and they are also deleted from snapchat server.  Or are they?  It has been reported that Snapchat photos do not actually disappear, and that the images can still be retrieved with minimal technical knowledge after the time limit expires.
  • Webcams are an open window into your child’s life and bedroom.  Webcams are the single most dangerous device to be attached to your computer.  Sexual predators can take screen shots and/or record the video chat. Specific viruses can turn on the webcam even if it is turned off.  It can be turned on remotely and record a person without their knowledge.  If your child uses a webcam, it should be unplugged when it is not in use, or turned towards a wall.  Webcams should never be placed in a bedroom.

 

Sexting is not an isolated trend.  It’s a new expression, fueled by technology, or social and sexual experimentation that has always characterized adolescence.  The best way for parents to keep kids safe is still to send a message of your own, which emphasizes responsibility, explains the risks, and keeps lines of communication open.

 

Reporting

  • If you feel that you should report a case of child pornography, or have questions for clarification about laws, you may contact the Hamilton Police Service 905-546-4925.
  • If your child is not the victim, you can report to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).
  • Tips also can be reported anonymously at www.cybertip.ca
  • Facebook has a “report” setting that can be used for inappropriate content. 

It is important for incidents to be reported to help combat child pornography, cyber-bullying, and luring by sexual predators.

 

Related Websites

The Digital Citizen Website www.thedigitalcitizen.ca

 

Related Content

sexting.pdf (72 KB)