Sexting – your kids doing it?

Sexting is the act of a minor sending photo images via cell phone to someone else.  Many of our kids have cell phones with cameras, coupled with the ability to send MMS (basically rich media messages) and pictures over their SMS.  While parents happily and unhappily buy their kids unlimited text messaging from carriers, you don’t see the contents or to whom on those monthly bills.   This is the surprising moment to many parents when the kids get caught either by them or an official.

In recent news, many children (I use this terms since we have to deal with underage issues) are facing charges when caught.  I went through about 15 articles and there was one common thread, the photos got shared far beyond the intended recipient by the resending of the photo to friends, showing the actual picture on the phone and alarmingly the number of school administrators that would see a photo once it was discovered.  Here is the scenario:

  • Girl gets request or for fun sends picture of herself unclothed in some manner to a boy.
  • Boy may or may not show his friends, but that can make a difference too
  • Someone finds the picture on the boys phone.  This could be a parent or school administrator
  • School administrator not only notifies parents on both sides, but the local police resource officer so many schools have
  • Girl is charged with distributing child pornography
  • Boy is charged with possessing child pornography

From January 2009:

This week, three teenage girls who allegedly sent nude or semi-nude cell phone pictures of themselves, and three male classmates in a western Pennsylvania high school who received them, are charged with child pornography.

I first asked myself, well how did they find out?  The answer was too obvious.  One of the children had turned on their cellphone during school hours, and got caught.

So who is at fault?  The sender for taking the picture.  Is a hormone driven teenager guilty of child pornography charges for pictures of herself?  I tend to say no since they are of herself and she willingly took them.  Is the recipient guilt of possession of child pornography?  If the recipient did not immediately delete the pictures I have to say yes.  Even though we are talking about a minor to a minor.  Sure, we can argue they didn’t know better.  We can’t argue that they were consenting, since they are minors right?  We have to agree that if the recipient kept the photos and never shared them with anyone, then they had what transgression?  It is such a gray area that you would hate to see someone get labeled for life as a sex offender for getting a picture on the cellphone.  Sharing the information with 200 friends might be a different matter that would have to be judged though.

From Mar 2009, we get a new jolt to the issue.  School administrators taking part in this same activity with students.  In this case it was a 17 year old female and a male administrator.  She had sent him photos of herself and at no time did he tell her to stop.  But the basic part was how they got each others cell phone numbers.  She was their babysitter.  So while we find out both of them have issues to deal with, the problem of sexting is not isolated to our kids today.

Summary: A new part of the ever growing technology is impacting how our kids interact.  Instead of judging each individual child, have we taught them what is proper etiquette when using the devices?  Do we regularly check their phones to see what is going on?  Do you have privacy issues with your kids?  Could you even discuss a topic like this with them?  Do you know where they send text messages to at all?  How about who they receive them from?  have you ever seen any content?

  • http://www.thenorth.com/apblog Andrew Pollack

    I don’t think it will be long before the providers offer some ways to address this. Verizon already offers some interesting parent controls for phones that are part of the family plan.

    a) you can give an “allowance” of minutes to a phone even though it shares all the minutes in your plan. So you can give the kid’s phone a monthly max of 100 minutes out of the 300 you buy, for example. This is true also for text messages.

    b) you can make the phone unusable during specific times of the day on days of the week. You might, for example, make the phone inoperable from 9:30pm to 7am if you want to keep the teens from spending all night texting and and talking. You could also make the phone stop working during school hours. When disabled, the phone call still call 911, and specifically “white listed” phone numbers.

    c) you can black list or white list allowed phone numbers for that phone.

    d) they offer a “chaperon” service that uses GPS to let you know where the teen (or at least the phone) is. You can be notified if they goes outside a given area or is shut off.

    e) you can see, almost in real time, exactly the numbers dialed, or text message addresses for sms sent and received along with the time and duration.

    f) you can limit content accessed (music, browsing) based on a rating system.

    Given that they’ve moved to do all of these as parental controls, how long before they also offer to copy the main account holder on all text messages (or at least make them available on-line to view)?