By Kevin B. McDonald – Chair of Government Affairs for Web Wise Kids
Apr 19, 2009 – 9:48:45 AM
(HealthNewsDigest.com) – “Sexting” is a term used to describe the act of sharing or receiving sexually explicit nude or partially nude photographs by teens through the use of mobile phones. It has been occurring since cameras and picture messaging became part of the mobile phone experience. Adult awareness, sheer market ubiquity and some very public cases have brought this issue to the top of the public mind. Albeit disturbing to many, it is a “sexy” topic that cannot be avoided. So, why is sexting a big deal?
To answer this, it is imperative to look at the underlying reasons kids choose to participate in sexting and get serious about education and counseling.
Sexting carries severe implications that need to be addressed in their own right. Unlike images of the past, digital images can be copied, modified, transmitted and stored in several different ways within seconds. In the days of film, the picture and negative could be shredded with some degree of assurance that the image was gone for good. Digital images on the other hand are not actually destroyed when you shred the printed version or press the delete key. In most instances, there are several impressions or copies of an image that are created in transit and while being saved to a phone or computer. Digital images that have been transmitted, uploaded or stored are relatively permanent in the majority of cases. Essentially, any shared images can be distributed around the world.
Though some experts feel sexting is a fad or short lived phenomenon, the statistics seem to indicate otherwise. Based on a recent study by Dr. Joan Ganz Cooney, nearly every American child has access to a mobile phone with 30% of children 6-9 having their own. Common Sense Media reports that 22% of teen girls and 20% of teen boys have sent nude or semi-nude photos of themselves. According to Dr. Cooney, the number of sexters rises to 33% for young adults between 20-26 years old.
So, what is a parent to do? The fact that these devices are very small and highly mobile creates significant challenges. In addition, many parents are less aware and proficient at using these devices than their children. Many may not know how to find an image even if they had possession of the phone. So, here are a few tips:
Do your homework. Find sites that offer information on Internet safety and learn about the pressures your children face. Not-for-profit educational resources such Web Wise Kids, The National Center For Missing & Exploited Children and others offer good tips for parents and easy-to-understand training for children.
Get involved at the community and school levels. Organizations like Web Wise Kids [www.webwisekids.com] have created learning tools like their recently released cell phone safety game entitled “It’s Your Call” to help children understand some of these issues surrounding sexting. However, this tip doesn’t just include cell phone use. Web Wise Kids has also partnered with search engine Ask.com on a program called “Safe Search Schools” that rewards elementary aged children and teachers for their efforts in Internet safety education with $10,000 in new computers and a visit from NASCAR star Bobby Labonte, driver of the No. 96 Ask.com Ford. More information is available at www.safesearchschools.com.
Talk with your children early and often. As the father of two teenage daughters, I know this conversation can be uncomfortable but it must happen. The conversation must be ongoing as technology and the pressures it brings changes almost daily. Let them know what your expectations are when it comes to the use of technology and privacy.
Know who, when and how often people are communicating with your child. Set consumption limits on cell phones, computers and other technological devices and hold them to those limits. While it is true that most phones have cameras, providing the messaging features is optional so limitations on the services that are allowed on their phone might be something to consider.
Kevin B. McDonald is a recognized technology industry leader and dynamic government affairs and public policy expert. Kevin is a sought-after consultant, advocate, writer, and presenter on the subjects of technology, governmental, corporate and personal cyber security and public policy. Some of his current affiliations are:
Member High Tech Crimes Consortium
Senior Public Policy Advisor, Technology Leadership PAC
Member, National Board of Directors for TechAmerica (formerly American Electronics Association) The World’s largest association of technology companies.
Member, National Board of Directors and Chairman of Government Affairs for Web Wise Kids
Chairman, Technology District Legislative Committees and industry advisor to CA, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, CA, Assemblyman Jose Solorio and CA, Senator Tom Harman
Senior Public Policy and Cyber Security Advisor to Women’s Transitional Living Center
Co-Producer and the host of FACETS Television in affiliation with EyeOn Productions and Legacy Interactive Television
2008 High Tech Innovation Awards, Excellence in Government Advocacy
2008 Outstanding Commitment to Children’s Online Safety