Is Your Child Sexting in Church and School?
The invasiveness of 21st century handheld technology into churches is not limited to the pulpit, pews and choir stands, nor the classroom, lunchrooms, and bathrooms of our schools. Students are using their handheld devices for other reasons besides worshiping and studying. In recent years technology has invaded our places of worship and educational institutions causing distractions and disruptions. Displays of this invasion can be seen when our Pastors forget to turn off their blackberries during preaching time, when deacons and deaconesses try to discretely tell those who are calling that they are on ministerial duty or when church choir members gospel songs/worldly songs play on their cell phones as they perform praise and worship. Every Sunday a new routine is added before services begin or during the week before instruction in school; people are being told to turn off or silence their digital devices and not to text. We have all chuckled, smiled, scowled, or tried to ignore these digital intrusions in our worship times. There are even jokes in movies that when a cell phone rings, the preacher in "The Fighting Temptations," “that better be Jesus calling” is the popular statement.
Teens and Adults: The digital incursion is not limited to teens, but adults are the culprits often times. We cannot always lay blame on our young people for the use of digital tools to communicate with family and friends. The use or misuse of digital communication devices is obvious, but the use of them in an inappropriate environment and the use of inappropriate language in songs and lyrics is growing in our society. Adults must set the example, correct behaviors that our children exhibit and make sure adults are not the culprits.
Defining Sexting: Wikipedia; sexting is defined as,” the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photos electronically, primarily between cell phones” (www.wikipedia.com). The technology is such that not only can photos be sent but video, audio and links to web sites. The multimedia experience can be displayed digitally on cell phone screens which creates a major concern for ISP’s (Internet Service Providers) and cell phone companies, the content that is sent through them is border line inappropriate, this material skirting the edges of child and teen porn being sent by texting, many ISP’s and cell phone companies are reexamining their policies on pictures, text and video. Police detective Vern Myers in Colorado on investigating several cases states, "on something like that it's child pornography. If you take that picture, you're manufacturing it; if you send that picture, then you're distributing it”. Throughout the U.S. at least four states, sexting kids are facing charges of child pornography and sexual exploitation of a minor. Parents are encouraged to check their child’s texting history, and who is in their texting group of friends. If there is no resistance then the teen has nothing to hide, but if teens are defiant especially if the parent is paying the bill then there is a problem.
Social Interaction and Social Networking: The participation in social networking has allowed teens to be involved in more risky behaviors because there is more interaction at a personal level. If you post personal information on a social site like MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, etc , then others that are your friends can add you as a friend and see that you are a potential candidate for that type of behavior. There is more exposure to people or groups that teens would not have been exposed to before. Even without the digital aspects of social networking there have been these types of exchanges in magazines and newspapers, but in non-direct ways, not so directly targeted and participated in by teens. Documented in Wikipedia, “messages with sexual content have been exchanged over all forms of historical media”, but was not directly participated in by teens. These advanced types of media exchanges just allow for faster and more explicit materials to be shared. One of the dangers that teens are experiencing is that they may share a photo or video with a friend, but it only takes minutes for it be forwarded by text, email, twitter, etc to others. “A social danger with sexting is that material can be very easily and widely promulgated, over which the originator has no control” The Institute for Responsible Online and Cell-Phone Communication (I.R.O.C.). This loss of control has possibly cost the life of several young ladies who shared photos with their boyfriends, but that material was spread to others after they broke-up.
Law Enforcement Investigations: When investigations are being performed there are varied reasons for this kind of action. The Nat. Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, Bill Alpert found that, the primary reason young people give is they say this is a fun or flirtatious activity," Alpert says further, "of more concern is the second primary reason they cite — among girls — is they do this as a sexy present for their boyfriends." Girls do not realize the danger they present to their reputations and future status in school and the community. Boys will pass pictures on to their friends and to the football/basketball team ; in the case of (Ohio ) Jessica Logan who hanged herself in her bedroom, she was 18 (TODAY Show.com March. 6, 2009). “She had sent nude pictures of herself to a boyfriend. When they broke up, he sent them to other high school girls and the football team. The girls were harassing her, she was miserable and depressed, afraid even to go to school”. Because of the nature of these situations school officials are sometimes powerless unless the students are actually caught with the cell phone device taking the picture or texting.
Public Officials: It is difficult to tell young people not to do something unless there is public notice and adults are put in criminal situations. Across America; public officials and religious leaders are being investigated because of questionable texting. Their texts and emails are being scrutinized more and more because of who they are texting and their possible content. These electronic messages are stored on servers and archived for years. One case is that of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his texting case. “Controversy began when over 14,000 text messages were recently discovered that had been passed between Kilpatrick and Beatty. The texts supported the theory that the two were involved in a sexual relationship at the time and also supported the claims that they had conspired…” The Detroit News. "Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick Shamed by Text Messages".
School Policies: In various districts throughout Florida; school districts currently have a policy that prohibits students from using cell phones during school time, and that includes text messaging. District officials implemented the policy to curb students from using cell phones and camera phones to cheat on tests. This policy in some form is implemented throughout Florida. There are cases that texting is being used to bully students as well. In a November 2007 survey it was found by Boost Mobile “that text messages have been used to bully 24 per cent of young people. Texting was used in almost 90 per cent of cases of harassment of people aged between 13 and 18 years
via mobile telephone”.
Laws on Record: The question on many peoples minds, are there laws? Parry Aftab, an Internet security expert explained there are laws, but with any accusation “It depends on the age of the child. If somebody’s under the age of 18, it’s child pornography, and even the girl that posted the pictures can be charged. They could be registered sex offenders”. During his work Aftab states that, “Forty-four percent of the boys say that they’ve seen sexual images of girls in their school, and about 15 percent of them are disseminating those images when they break up with the girls.” Girls don’t think that boys will do this until it is too late. Parents need to be diligent to the activities of their teens when they are using cell phones. It is literally a matter of live and death; teens reputations which could be affected, future job opportunities, public service, political office and relationships. If the parent is paying the bill or the child is living at home then the parent assumes responsibility for their child’s actions.
William Jackson, M.Ed.
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