Ignore This and You Might Ruin Your Kid’s Life – Sexting is a Potential Sex Crime

A recently published study from The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy suggests that over 20% of teens (ages 13-19) and an incredible 33% of young adults (ages 20-26) have shared nude or semi-nude images of themselves either via cell phone SMS text messages or by posting online. Teenage girls are a little more likely to do this than boys and a very distressing 11% of the young teen girls (ages 13-16) admitted to sending suggestive photos of themselves.

Recent reports from The Nielsen Company and the Pew Research Center point to a handful of factors that should be causing concern for parents and guardians. These topics are also an opportunity for software solutions companies. There is growth in the number of teenagers that use cellular phones, the amount of texting they do, and potentially much more serious the percentage of young adults that participate in “sexting” – the sending of provocative images or text messages from mobile phones.

Why the fuss and bother?  Just innocent fun, youth discovering their emerging sexuality? 

Think again.  Sending a sexually explicit image of a child is a sex crime.  Young people are being arrested, convicted and having to register as sex offenders.  They are risking more than emotional distress and humiliation, charges of sexual misconduct can result in getting suspended and expelled from school, losing scholarships, and losing jobs.  A felony conviction can also affect future employment opportunities, including law enforcement and other high-security clearance positions.   In other words, they’re ruining their lives over a little “innocent” fun.

There isn’t anything innocent about it.  Consider that if a young teen sends a sexting image of themselves – they could be breaking child pornography statues in most states. 

Getting convicted in felony court for “sexting” will result in other serious consequences.  In addition to the potential jail sentence and/or fine levied by a judge, registration may be stipulated with the Sex Offender Registration Board for the next 20 years.  Additionally, the criminal court may order the surrender and destruction of the computer or digital devices used.

As sending SMS text messages from mobile phones has become a centerpiece in teenager social life, parents, educators and advocates have grown increasingly troubled about the role of cellular phones in the sexual lives of teenagers.   A fresh research study from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project (pewinternet.org/topics/Teens.aspx) found that four percent of cell phone owning youths between the ages of twelve and seventeen say they have sent sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images or videos of themselves to other people using SMS text messages.  This activity is typically known as “sexting” in today’s vernacular. Additionally, fifteen percent say they have received these kinds of images images of someone they already know by way of text message.

According to a study from market researchers The Nielsen Company (blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/online_mobile/under-aged-texting-usage-and-actual-cost/) American teens send an undreamed of average of ten SMS messagesSMS texts every hour that they are not in school or sleeping – and most likely a lot during class too!

By analyzing more than 40,000 monthly US mobile mobile bills, Nielsen concluded that American teenagers sent an average of an inconceivable 3,146 texts each month during the third quarter 2009.  

Their younger counterparts – tweenagers – ages 9-12 years old sent about 1,100 text messages each month.   That equates to four per hour they were in school or not sleeping.  To put that in perspective, the average number of monthly texts sent by all mobile phone users collectively was a little more than 500. In the fourth quarter 2009, tweenage users aged nine to twelve increased SMS usage by eight percent just about doubling the quantity of text messages.

Pew Research points out that sending provocative images happens most often during one of three different scenarios:  The first, exchanges of images only between two romantic partners;
the next, lists exchanges between partners that are then shared outside the relationship; followed by, exchanges between people who are not yet in a relationship, but where often one {party hopes to be}.

Teens were interviewed and gave researchers various explanations behind the impulse to participate in sexting.  These included the researcher’s interpretation that “…sexually suggestive images had become a form of relationship currency,”; that sexting images “… are shared as a part of or instead of sexual activity,” and that SMS text message sexting is a way of starting or maintaining a relationship.   Sensitive images are also passed along to friends “… for their entertainment value, as a joke, or for fun.”

Teens also described to researchers the pressure they feel to share these types of pictures.  Not surprisingly the report revealed that young people that are intensive users of  cell phones are more likely to to be sent inappropriate images.  For these teens, the phone has become such an important conduit for communication and a variety of content that turning it off is unlikely.

The combination of risk-taking and sexual exploration during the teen years mixed with regular connection using cellular phones and other mobile devices “…creates a ‘perfect storm’ for sexting,” said Pew’s Amanda Lenhart.  “Teenagers have always grappled with issues around sex and relationships, but their coming-of-age mistakes and transgressions have never been so easily transmitted and archived for others to see.”

Despite some indications that per user usage has peaked, Nielsen predicts that overall SMS usage will grow as the heavy text messaging demographic ages and entices the older generations to text with them in order to keep in contact with them.  Current SMS users are expected to continue to text extensively and as tweenagers become teenagers they are in all probability going to follow the trends of texting established by current teens.  The number of text messages sent per capita has grown every year and should continue.

If you’ve got teens then in all likelihood not surprised by the usage statistics. But chances are you’re also either in denial that your children are involved in sexting, or you’re actively seeking solutions to the problem. In all probability most parents don’t believe their teens are involved with sexting, or they are looking for ways to find out.   While parents may fume that all the texts their teens and tweens are sending will land them in the poorhouse, Nielsen research indicates the average cost of a single text message is only about one penny.  The real issue affecting families is not so much how often teens use their phones but more about how they use their phones, and when they are using them.

Sexting is a very complicated issue.  Consequently, it is very difficult to offer advice on how best to handle these situations.  The National Center For Missing & Exploited Children policy talks about that there are four roles to every sexting case: someone seen in the picture, the individual  who took the picture, the distributor(s) of the photo, and the recipient(s) of the image.  In some cases one person may assume more than one of these roles (e.g., a child takes a sexually explicit image, of herself and sends it to a classmate). In other situations, multiple people may take on a single role (e.g., a child takes a sexually explicit picture of himself and sends it to a classmate who then forwards the photo to the entire high school senior class). It is important to think about the intentions and motives of each of the parties under different circumstances.

The National Center For Missing & Exploited Children advocates parents monitor cell phone use.  A practical technological solution available for parents and guardians to discover what teens are doing~what’s going on with their teenagers}  is cell phone technology. 
Famous rights attorney Gloria Allred addressed the legal penalties of “sexting” that parents and teens may not know:
Teenagers involved in “sexting” actions – those that transmit sexually explicit pictures, are at risk of potential criminal charges for child pornography OR criminal use of a communication device, and in some states, face the exposure of having to register as a sex offender – a disgrace that could follow them for the next twenty years
Not only do teens who are involved in “sexting” face the risk of criminal prosecution and the prospects of prison and/or probation, which will potentially remain on their criminal record for the indefinite future, they also face the prospect of the possibility of being required by the Court to register as sex offenders.

Sexting can be illegal.  Parents are responsible to stop it.  Especially when low cost solutions can be ordered over the internet.     A really great software package that includes remote control of device settings, and combines Mobile Phone Tracking  with SMS text message, Call Log,  MMS multi-media message monitoring, and a web account for storage and review is PhoneBeagle.  

Follow this link if you are interested in    Cell Phone Monitoring Software that works with with BlackBerry  and  Android  Smartphones,.    Visit this link for more information regarding the latest software for 
Parental Monitoring of Mobile Phones .