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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

Sexting – new problem, old solutions


There has been a flurry of recent internet and blog commentary on the worrisome phenomenon of “sexting” – where teen girls have been caught sending nude or otherwise compromising pictures of themselves to boys via their cell phones. In some cases the recipients were regular boyfriends; in other cases, the girls were seeking attention or responding to dares or similar peer pressure.

In most of the cases that have made local or national headlines, the pictures ended up getting much wider circulation than the original subject of the photos had bargained for and were inevitably uncovered by parents or school authorities.

Now, a recently-published online survey conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited suggests that as many as 1 in 5 kids have sent sexy pictures of themselves to others via their cell phones.

Teens have been making these kinds of errors in judgment for ever. In fact, some 73 per cent of the teenagers in the survey said they knew these kinds of photos and videos could have serious negative consequences but they did it anyway. When you’re a teenager, you are more likely to take these risks; in the immature mind the thrills associated with driving a car too fast or experimenting with underage sex will often outweigh the dangers.

But when it comes to sexting or sending images via e-mail, the big difference today is the consequences of the misjudgment. In the Internet age, there are few secrets and not much privacy.  Whatever can be sent electronically will be sent…again and again.

What has surprised me in much of the online commentary is the reaction of some parents.  For some, it’s as if technology were completely to blame for the teens’ actions. “If cell phones didn’t have cameras, these kids wouldn’t have done this!” “If it wasn’t for the Internet, they wouldn’t be in this mess!”

However, technology is just the enabler. Millions of kids safely use camera cell phones on a daily basis without feeling the need to send nude pictures of themselves. Similarly, there are millions of innocent Facebook or MySpace pages with perfectly appropriate pictures and content. If kids are taught to act responsibly, then parents have no need to fear the technology that is now so much a part of their children’s lives.

Lost in all the finger-pointing and excuse-making is the age-old issue of parental responsibility. Clearly when a teen is not mature enough to recognize danger or realize the consequences of his or her actions, then it is the responsibility of the parents to provide the counseling and advice that might help prevent these errors of judgment. Parents need to share their values with their children at every opportunity and clearly articulate the potential consequences of ignoring their advice.

The (Original) Online Mom

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