When I was a kid, we had, mounted on the wall near the dining table, a rotary-dial phone with a 30’ long cord that seemed to always be twisted into a ball of knotted-up, curly wire. To let my mom know where I was, I had to use my friend’s rotary phone with the twisted cord to call my house’s rotary phone with the twisted cord. But usually, I forgot. Or called late. I just didn’t think about it, because we were usually building a motor-less go-cart with scrap wood and lawn mower wheels, playing ball till it was too dark to see it coming at you, or any number of other digital-less activities.
As a parent, I’m glad technology has evolved to the point where I can talk or text with my kids virtually anytime, or track their whereabouts using global positioning satellite functions (sorry kids, I’m a dad). It’s even nice to text a couple of ridiculous “dad jokes” or send goofy animal face photos to my kids via Snapchat. But tech advances certainly come with risks.
As innocent as certain apps and social media sites can be, their dark sides are unfortunately becoming engrained in our society, and our young people are both the targets and perpetrators of some pretty bad stuff. Some of us parents have unwittingly contributed to the problem by providing smartphones to our kids that may not be developmentally ready for that responsibility. Or, we fail to see the dangers ourselves, and haven’t coached our kids on how to use these tools safely. The playing field of parenting has drastically changed, and it’s important for parents to know the opportunities and the threats, and act accordingly.
One of the biggest threats is the use of technology for sending/receiving inappropriate, sexually charged photos and messages within a society of young people that seem to have limited understanding of the ramifications.
It’s pretty scary:
– 39% of teenagers have sent or posted sexually suggestive messages, and 48% have received a sext-message*
– About 1 in 5 teens has sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves on line (22% of girls surveyed; 18% of boys).*
– When asked about why they post/send sexually suggestive material, GIRLS responded in the following way: 40% did it as a joke, 34% did it to feel sexy, and 12% did it because they felt pressured.*
– 15% of teens who have sent or posted nude/semi-nude images of themselves send these messages to people they have never met, but only know online.*
– Many of these photos end up being shared and re-shared via texting and social media platforms by people they were never intended for.
– Many kids believe that programs like Snapchat – that have a 10-second time limit on how long a photo is viewable – don’t save the pictures or videos shared; that they simply disappear. The truth is that they ARE accessible.**
– To date, the majority of states do not yet have sexting laws. This means that in some states, law enforcement and the courts would fall back on their child pornography statutes. Consequences based on child pornography laws can land a teenager in prison and/or on the sex-offender registry for the rest of their life.
Most kids who send nude or semi-nude photos don’t realize they are perpetuating child pornography. But that’s exactly what it is. As parents, we can’t afford NOT to have open conversations and strict boundaries around sexting.
The “trying to pull a fast one on the parents” approach goes even further in the world of electronics and raging hormones among our teens and even pre-teens. Apparently, there’s an entire language, primarily created to disguise talk of sexually charged content, that parents need to be aware of.
Here are some tips for cracking the code.
- 53X = a way to write “sex”
- LH6 = let’s have sex
- GNOC = get naked on camera
- WTTP = want to trade photos?
- 99 = parents are gone
- sapnu puas = send nudes (upside down)
Beyond simple letters and acronyms, emojis – those cute little symbols of fun and innocence – have also been incorporated into sex talk. Here are some symbols and their potential meanings that you need to be aware of:
- Banana, eggplant, rooster = male genitalia
- Peach = buttocks or female genitalia
- Taco = female genitalia
- Filmstrip = request for nude photos
- Movie camera = inappropriate video
- Computer = inappropriate skyping
So, what do we do with all this? Start with these three tips:
- Talk with your kids. Directly, and lovingly, ask your kids about any involvement with sexting or other sexual activity. Make it a habit to have regular, open, frank discussions about the risks and realities of technology. What we send out into cyberspace may just surface again somewhere, and we won’t be able to do anything about it. While you’re at it, talk with them about their dreams, your family’s values, their successes and their failures. It will help you stay connected. And not just on social media.
- Educate yourself. The above is just a sampling, and these things are trendy – they tend to change. Check out sites like emojitranslate.com to stay informed. Also look at ongoing research posted by organizations like the CyberBullying Research Center (www.cyberbullying.org) and Statistic Brain (www.statisticbrain.com/sexting-statistics). If you are unsure about whether or not your teen is sexting or you simply want to take preventative action, there are programs that can help you keep tabs on your kids’ tech use (i.e. www.uKnowKids.com).
- Establish and enforce clear boundaries. Today’s parents are not only the providers and nurturers, but our role as protectors is critical. And the landscape has changed. To be super-informed supervisors, we need to know the risks and create a structure around those risks to keep our kids safe. This includes being thoughtful and wise in deciding whether or not to provide our kids with a smart phone. In these cases, less is sometimes more. In addition to our own wisdom and skill set, we need to think like a kid and a detective at the same time. The truth is, most kids feel more safe and secure when they have appropriate boundaries within which to live.
We’ve come a long way from the 30’ twisted ball of phone cord. And that’s a good thing. But we need to recognize that if we get our kids a cell phone, we’re not just providing them with a phone. It’s much more complex than that, and we need to approach it accordingly.
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* Research conducted April 2017 by Statistic Brain (http://www.statisticbrain.com/sexting-statistics/)
** In a May 2014 ABC News article by Rheana Murray, security expert Nico Sell was quoted, saying, “It looks like it’s gone…If you don’t understand the underlying technology of the Internet, and aren’t thinking about what is going on behind the scenes, it looks like it disappeared…Even when something is deleted from your device or a computer, it doesn’t completely delete.” http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/deleted-snapchat-photos/story?id=23657797