The cell phone has revolutionized the way communications take place in today’s culture.The world of Star Trek has reached beyond the big screen to become a modern day technological tool that has made wireless communication a common day occurrence for millions of people. No longer are consumers bound to hard-wired telephones of years past, the cellular phone has made it possible to communicate with just about anyone, anywhere.Advances in technology have taken cell phones from the size of a brick to the size of a credit card, and now incorporates a host of new features, including Internet-enabled cameras that capture images and record video that can be uploaded to the Web.
No longer just a tool for business, cell phones are now used to link individuals together, and are increasingly being used by teens and pre-teens to communicate with one another.Thousands of text messages travel wirelessly from phone to phone as a new generation of cell phone users chat endlessly back and forth.These next generation phones also share text, video and digital images quickly and efficiently.
But it’s not just pictures of Fido and Calico that are being shared one with another.A recent study shows that 1 in 5 teen and pre-teen cell phone users are using their wireless phones to send inappropriate or nude pictures (or video) of themselves with other cell phone users.Often sent from girlfriend to boyfriend (following a trend set by two of the stars of High School Musical), these pictures are often shared with others without the sender’s knowledge or consent.Whether forwarded to others to brag, or as a means of retaliation in the event of an argument, the end result is often humiliation, embarrassment, or degradation of the person featured in the shared image.
The practice is called “Sexting” and it’s a crime. Yet few juveniles (and fewer parents) know this is the case.In some states, sexting is a misdemeanor, but in a growing number of others it is a felony. An increasing number of states view this as the transmission of child pornography (and prosecute it as such) if the images are of someone under the age of 18 (or if inappropriate images are sent to someone under age 18). And the courts are not just “slapping the wrist” of offenders any longer; as the proliferation of cases are filtering into the courts.
In a recent case in Florida, a 17-year old girl sent a nude picture of herself to her 18-year old boyfriend. After an argument, the 18-year old boy sent the nude picture to everyone in the girl’s “friends” list, which unbeknownst to him included her teachers, parents, and close friends.The young man was arrested, charged and convicted of transmitting child pornography via an electronic medium and was ordered to register as a sex offender. He lost his job, was kicked out of college, and is unable to live with his Father because his dad lives too close to a school. He was also ordered to go through a sex offender’s rehabilitation class, and will remain on the registered sex offender’s list until the age of 45. His picture is featured on the state’s website, and has to daily deal with the humiliation and embarrassment for his actions.
The young girl who sent him the picture also faced embarrassment, ridicule and humiliation from friends and others who heard about the high profile case. The lives of two families were forever damaged because a young girl thought it “cool” to send naked pictures of herself to her boyfriend and subsequently having those images forwarded (without her knowledge or consent) to others by her boyfriend after a fight. Both actions were wrong, and both individuals (as well as their families) have had to deal with the consequences of wrong choices… and for the young boy, those consequences will follow him for the next 25-30 years.
In Pennsylvania, three girls who sent nude or partially nude pictures of themselves to three boys in their school now face felony charges of distributing child pornography. A Texas eighth grader was jailed for sending a nude picture of himself to another student. In Virginia, two boys (ages 15 and 18) have been charged with solicitation and possession of child pornography with intent to distribute after law enforcement learned the teens sought nude pictures from three juveniles, one in elementary school. According to a report issued by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, of the 2100 children who were identified as victims of online porn, 1 in 4 initially sent the images to themselves. Some did it for fun, and others were tricked by adults they met online.
In another case in Pennsylvania, a 15-year old girl has been charged for sending nude pictures of herself over the Internet to a 27 year old she met online. The intent was not to jail her, but to help her get counseling and other help she needs, according to the District Attorney handling the case. He added the 27 year old has been sentenced to 10 years for having sex with the juvenile. In Ohio, 8 teens have been arrested for trading nude pictures of themselves with others.One of the girl’s fathers found the images and reported authorities.
Yet every day this practice continues, and is proliferating at an alarming rate among today’s youth.
Cyber-bullying is the use of any electronic medium to humiliate, ridicule, intimidate, embarrass, threaten or abuse another person. In a culture that uses sex to sell everything from underwear to toothpaste, today’s teens and preteens often have no sense or morality when it comes to decency standards.In the 1960’s, TV censors would not permit open-mouthed kisses to be shown, and even married couples slept in separate twin beds on many TV shows. A generation later, little (if anything) is left to the imagination…even in prime time. Music videos, movies, soap operas, and even (so-called) family television shows continue to push the decency boundaries to the point that few, if any, moral standards are enforced by the FCC. Today’s teens and pre-teens see so many sex acts on TV, they have accepted the lack of decency standards as normal.
Coupled with a growing lack of parental supervision and guidance, today’s youth lack moral restraint and see no problem with sending inappropriate or nude pictures of themselves to others (or posting them online). What they don’t understand is that once an image is posted on the Internet, it is forever there and can’t be removed. Today’s technology archives virtually all email, as well as postings to social networking (and other) websites. And images sent to another person’s cell phone are now outside their control and can be posted to a website or shared with others without their knowledge or consent. Once forwarded to other cell phones by a third party, those images can be forwarded to countless others anywhere in the world.
But it’s not just teens and pre-teens who are engaging in this activity. A small but growing number of adults, including married spouses, are sending inappropriate or nude pictures of themselves over cell phones. Those who should know better (and be setting a positive example for the younger generation to follow) are sadly illustrating a disturbing lack of conscience and moral fortitude by engaging in sexting.
The saddest part of sexting is that the act of cyber-bullying starts with the individual who actually sends a picture of himself (or herself) to another person. Sexting is humiliating to the person who sends his or her picture to another, whether they realize it or not…and this is compounded when those images are shared with others either by cell phone or posting online. The young girl who takes an inappropriate picture of herself and sends it to her boyfriend is just as guilty of cyber-bullying as the boyfriend who shares it with others. Both acts are immoral, and could be considered a crime.
What many teens and pre-teens don’t consider now is the long term implications of impulsive, foolish choices made today. Imagine the shock when a prospective employer conducts a background check on a recent high school or college graduate only to find inappropriate or nude pictures posted in a number of Internet archives. As previously stated, these images, once posted, are there forever and can be accessible to anyone who has Internet access. As these teens and pre-teens marry in the future, and their children begin to search online, how will these parents explain the fact their suggestive, inappropriate, or naked images are there?
A question that deserves to be asked is why do children need cell phones in the first place? While they do provide a measure of convenience (and security), the vast majority of children use cell phones solely for pleasure and not for other purposes. Parents spend hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars each year to provide cell phones almost exclusively so they can talk to their friends, play games, or engage in web-based activities using their phones. And if the child is given a phone primarily for communication purposes with their family (or emergencies), do they really need a gadget-laden phone with all the bells and whistles (including Internet access or image capture capabilities)? Would not a basic cell phone suffice? How many instances are there where a landline is not readily available that a cell phone is a necessity, and not a luxury? If children are given a cell phone, are they mature enough to use it appropriately?
Plus there are no studies on the long-term health risks associated with cell phone use by children into adulthood.
It is important to note that if a parent is providing a cell phone to a child, and paying for the service, they should understand they could be held liable in any civil action taken by others as a result of an inappropriate use of the cell phone by their children. Some federal legislators are even considering a measure that would hold parents criminally liable if the child’s phone is used for sexting or other inappropriate uses.
Parents should talk to their children about cell phone use (and etiquette). They should also regularly check their children’s cell phones (and social networking sites, like Facebook, Orkut and MySpace) to make sure that there are no inappropriate images or content therein. As parents could be held liable for the content stored on or transmitted by their children’s cell phones, they have a vested interest in actively monitoring that phone’s usage. Children should understand the potential ramifications of posting inappropriate or nude pictures of themselves or others on cell phones or the Internet (including email), and that the consequences of these wrong choices can be devastating to themselves and others.