Recently, some more teen-agers took explicit photos of themselves—one girl was topless, and two teens, a boy and a girl, were engaged in a sexual act—and sent them, via cell phone, “to a few friends,” a practice known as “porn swapping.” Now the police have been called and are going to prosecute anyone at the kids’ high school found with either of the photos stored in their cell phones. You see, the kids who did it are underage, which means—you guessed it— those images now constitute child pornography. Of course, the police didn’t get there before the pictures went viral. Both have been sent from phone to phone, and most probably have found their way onto the Internet by now.
I have to say, as a parent, I find a lot of what’s going on with teen-agers to be really scary. I’ve always thought I would be capable of dealing with the stuff my son will undoubtedly throw at me when he hits his teen years, but now I’m not so sure. When I was in high school, I’ll admit, I got in trouble on occasion for going to a party or staying out past curfew once in awhile. These are things that kids still get in trouble for, and rightly so, but now, they also have Myspace pages where some post naked photos of themselves, and casually talk about “Friends with Benefits.” It’s a whole new world out there, and parents are scrambling to keep up.
This underscores the point that we parents need to sit down with our kids and tell them what the dangers are of sending photos like these or other private information about themselves out into cyberspace. Online predators, identity thieves and future employers are all out there, ready to click on that photo, profile or “harmless” remark. (That’s right, recruiters and employers are making it part of the interview process to go on Myspace and FaceBook pages and “check out” the people they are interviewing.)
Bottom line: You need to sit down and talk with your pre-teen and teen-ager about using common sense when it comes to the Internet and cell phones. They need to know that a moment of stupidity or impulsiveness could haunt them for the rest of their lives, both emotionally—and professionally.
(For more on this topic, see the February issue of Empowering Parents.)