Events, features and things to do for families in New Hampshire
Teens are engaging in dangerous and illegal behavior via their cell phones
By Karen Plumley
Ohio high school student Jessica Logan sent nude photos of herself via cell phone to her boyfriend in what she believed was an intimate, private message between two people. As parents with a few cruel life lessons under their belts may know, the vast majority of high school relationships do not last forever. But digital photos copied to remote Internet servers just might, as will the devastating consequences of hitting the send button.
When Jesse’s relationship ended, her teenage ex-sweetheart disseminated the photographs to fellow high school students. Some began relentlessly torturing and harassing Logan until she finally made an appearance on Cincinnati TV, sharing her illuminating story and hoping to warn others. Despite this last-ditch effort to stop the bullying, Jesse eventually gave up the battle. Her mother found the body of her only child hanging in her bedroom two months later in July 2008, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Her cell phone was lying on the floor nearby.
Unfortunately, while this may seem like an extreme example, this is not an isolated incident.
Sexting, or sending sexually explicit photos and messages by cell phone, is becoming common practice among middle school and high school teens, even here in New Hampshire (with the most recently reported incidents occurring in Salem and Kingston).
High school resource officer Marc Anderson of Nashua said although police have not pursued any sexting cases in Nashua schools, “Everyone at the high school level has a cell phone. And every time a new feature comes out, it’s amazing just how quickly the kids have it. It is important for parents to realize that today’s cell phones with all their bells and whistles are just like mini computers.”
Indeed cell phones have Internet capabilities (with easy access to sites such as Facebook and MySpace) and cameras built right in. Any Internet safety precautions parents might be undertaking for their home computers must now be applied to their kids’ cell phones as well.
Why teen sexting is becoming popular
It’s easy for parents to think sexting is a behavior their children would never engage in. But just like drinking, smoking and driving too fast, sexting has become an enticing and risky new activity for teenagers.
According to a 2008 CosmoGirl Survey, 22 percent of teenage girls between the ages of 13 and 19 said they had sent or posted nude pictures/videos of themselves, along with 18 percent of boys in the same age range.
But what possible reasons would teenagers have to do this? Lt. Jeffrey Bukunt of Nashua Police Department said, “Boys will pressure their girlfriends to do it. Girls will pressure other girls. A girl might do it to get a date with a boy she likes. It is just another means for kids to gain attention, get noticed, and be accepted by their peers.”
Dangers of sexting
And just like underage drinking, smoking, and speeding, producing or sending nude photos of children is against the law.
“Even if a child isn’t directly involved with taking a sexually explicit photo, as soon as he forwards one on to a friend, he is committing a crime that he could be charged for,” Bukunt said. “Additionally, these kids are unwittingly providing content to pedophiles who would pay good money for just this type of illegal material,” Bukunt said.
Sending nude photos or sexually charged text messages have other less obvious consequences.
“Pedophiles are not the only ones looking. Future employers and colleges screen the Internet and will turn down candidates if they have ever engaged in inappropriate online behaviors that demonstrate poor judgment,” Bukunt said.
Those that bully and threaten others into actions they would not ordinarily do are not immune to the penalties either.
SRO Marc Anderson said, “Sites like MySpace and Facebook allow anyone to be a tough guy. I get involved with harassment and criminal threatening cases often. Each one is different, and we have to look at these kids on an individual basis. Often, student counseling for the bully and victim may be all that is necessary, but at other times we have made arrests for bullying situations.”
New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte has been deeply involved in educating the public about Internet safety, sexting and cyberbullying. With a keen eye on prevention, Ayotte said, “Kids need to be taught to appreciate the laws as they pertain to the Internet. They are citizens in an online community, and that as in the real world they should be respectful of others. And if sexually explicit material is ever received, teenagers need to take responsibility and tell an adult, delete it, and stop the chain.”
What parents can do
Allowing children to have cell phones with photo and texting capabilities is a family decision, said Ayotte. But before any choices are made, she suggests parents have a talk with cell phone providers, and understand the product features and how restrictions and limits can be applied for kids.
Photo and texting limitation, word filtering and alert system software, and other spyware are options to be considered.
Placing time restrictions on a teenager’s cell phone is another must.
“It’s mind boggling that a 13-year old child would ever be allowed to have a cell phone in the bedroom at night, isolated with no supervision. Kids get bored and they are impulsive by nature. Parents can and should restrict the times that a cell phone can be used,” Anderson said.
But the most important thing parents can do, according to Attorney General Ayotte, is to “have the discussion” with their kids.
“Parents need to be up front with their kids before they receive a cell phone. Be clear and precise about the rules,” she said. Letting kids know that their cell phone usage will be monitored, and that they may be asked at any time to hand their devices over for an “inspection” are both excellent deterrents, as well.
Here are three other important points regarding cell phone safety that parents should be discussing with their kids:
1. Any messages and photos sent over the Internet will not necessarily remain private.
2. Anything sent over the Internet is permanent. Deleting it from a computer or cell phone does not guarantee that it is gone.
3. Messages and pictures can be tracked by an IP address. Even if not directly involved, when a kid forwards a text or picture he is part of a chain and is not anonymous.
Additionally, parents need to know what their kids are up to and who their friends are, both online and off.
“If your child cannot tell you the last name of a ‘friend’, then he or she has no business hanging out with or corresponding to that person. Parents need to increase their level of engagement in their kids’ lives. The more plugged in parents are, the better chance they have of intervening, before it is too late,” Bukunt said.
Attorney General Ayotte and the NH Department of Justice are working to update their Internet Safety Guide for Parents and Teens to include information on sexting and cyber bullying.
For more information, go to www.connectwithyourkids.org.
Karen Plumley is a freelance writer and mother of two from Pelham. She is also the author of the Daily Activities for Kids blog at www.dailyactivitiesforkids.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Last updated by Parenting NH Administrator Jun 30, 2009.