In recent years technological advancements have become utterly mind-boggling with video game systems, computers, and cell phones having the capability to do almost anything imaginable. Hypothetically: Consider the consequences of turning an adolescent loose on the highway in a Ferrari or Lamborghini; sports cars capable of speeds in excess of two hundred miles per hour. That’s the terror we currently face when children are combined with increased-capacity technical devices allowing access to the internet and the unrestricted freedoms accompanying technology unbridled.
As has been the case with most endeavors concerning people, we choose to not only explore the boundaries but are invariably led to testing them as well. This brings me to a point of serious concern regarding a growing phenomenon among today’s youth. The practice of sending sexually explicit messages via a cell phone or instant messenger has become the latest craze among tweens and teens known as “sexting.” With cell phones now having the capability of snapping photos, recording videos, and/or transmitting both, the practice of sending these photos and video images has dramatically increased among adults, and especially teens.
Until the 2013-2014 Session when Georgia House Bill 156 was passed by the state legislature, sexting was illegal under federal law. It fell under the auspices of creation, distribution and possession of child pornography; classified as a felony offense. Prior to the change in the law, many prosecutors sought conviction for both; those taking the pictures and those possessing them. Under new state legislation, “House Bill 156” modernized consequences for the offense in Georgia to make it somewhat less life-altering. It provides reduced punishment of certain crimes committed by children involving others in the same age bracket and also updated provisions of the code relating to sexual conduct and technology as well as clarifying certain acts as the elements of seducing, soliciting, luring or enticing a child through the use of a computer or the internet. (A complete copy of this bill is readily available on the state’s website: www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/20132014/136927).
Thankfully, this legislation allows law enforcement agencies to address what has become a growing concern on a more level playing field. Other states have since adopted similar laws prescribing penalties specifically directed at teenagers or adolescents who send sexually explicit photos to peers. These laws lessen the severity of penalties for teen sexting than cases of adults sending similar photos to a person who is under-age. In some instances though, sexting can still qualify as being against federal law. Depending on the age differences of the persons sending and/or receiving the explicit photos, an individual can face felony charges; requiring them to be a documented registered sex offender.
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl participated in a joint study determining 20% of teens between the ages of thirteen and nineteen and 30% of young adults between the ages of 20 and 26 have posted nude self-images on-line or shared them via text.
According to another study, fifty-one percent of all teen girls cited pressure from boys as a reason for sending explicit messages, while only 18% of teen boys admitted to giving in to the same solicitations from others. This is concerning in situations where a power imbalance already exists in relationships or there’s an issue with low self-esteem. (A number of online resources are available for parents to obtain information such as “Net Smartz 411” which is hosted by NCMEC – National Center for Missing and Exploited Children)
It is quite easy for a person to become caught up in the seemingly innocent environment of sexting because “everybody is doing it” or “I just want everybody to like me.” In the infamous words of my dear late mother, “If everybody else is doing it, that means you probably don’t have any business getting involved.” A bit of minor “encouragement” from the wrong person camouflaged as “the only one for me” can easily put an individual on a fast track to nowhere.
Unfortunately, most adolescents can’t begin to grasp the severity of the magnitude backlash from such behaviors can produce. Once a nude or compromising photo appears in the limitless expanse of the internet, there is nothing that can be done to retract it…or the consequences. Parents have to be actively involved in the lives of their children to the point of knowing everything they know, right down to passwords and access permissions for every account or program in which the under-aged adolescents participate. This is necessary to protect them not only from the risks presented by predators and criminals who prey on the young, but from themselves as well. I could be wrong but it’s just something to consider.