Sexting is a troubling trend among teenagers here in Hall County and around the country. Sexting involves young people sending out inappropriate photos of themselves and others over their cell phone. It is an issue that parents definitely need to be aware of in this community, in local school systems, and especially at home with their own children. 50 percent of college undergraduates reported sexting before graduating from high school and 1 in 4 Tweens (10 to 12 year olds) have said they’ve sexted. Hall County Solicitor General Stephanie Woodard discusses the problems of teens “sexting.”
Question: Those statistics are concerning. Why is sexting so prevalent?
Stephanie: Our interpersonal relationships and communications have changed. Establishing relationships is different than ever before.
Facebook has changed the definition of friends. “Friendships” can be established without in-person contact, personal knowledge, or personal interaction.
Also, online dating has moved from unique to common place. Communications occur in a different and a depersonalized method. Teens rarely talk on the phone. Most communication is done via text with abbreviations and emoticons. Whether they are tweens, teens or adults, many people have become very comfortable exchanging personal information with people they don’t know.
Question: What is the motivation for kids to send provocative photos and messages?
Stephanie: First, there are cultural reinforcements. They see celebrity posting these pictures. They see “regular” people gain notoriety with viral videos. And they want to trend on social media.
Some see the opportunity for fame or financial payoff regardless of whether it’s negative or positive attention.
Secondly, they see no cultural consequences. They have no in-depth processing of the personal impact sexting can have on relationships or careers.
Lastly, sexting is not always sexually motivated. It’s flirting, and trying to be cool and popular.
Question: What should parents be concerned about?
Stephanie: They should be concerned about the current impact on the child. This includes:• No boundary development;• Not thinking about the long-term impact;• Correlation between ADD and depression;• The anonymity of social media can increase hurtful and harmful content;• There is a decrease in inhibition and accountability. Long range impact is how it will affect their education and careers, future relationships, and possibly criminal arrests and convictions. And there is a demonstrated correlation between sexting and actually becoming sexually active.
Question: What can parents do to stay on top of situation?
Stephanie: Parents should educate themselves on:
• Know what devices your children have and which ones receive and send data;
• Know what networks your child has access to;• Familiarize yourself with applications and lingo;
• Explore what access they have in other locations;
• Audit your child’s online profile, computer history and photo galleries;
• Visit computer histories and shopping sites for grooming indications;
Parents should educate their children on:
•Phone/electronic devices are a privilege not a right;
•Images/technology can have a damaging effect;
•Practice impulse control;
•Driver’s Ed/Cyber Civics;
•Establish curfews and technology zones;