October 28, 2009
Protection Teens From ‘Sexting’
Gone are the days when teens passed love notes in class. Today's adolescents have taken their notes electronic, in a form of flirting known as "sexting" that can have unwanted and even dangerous outcomes, according to an expert on teen sexual health at Baylor College of Medicine.
Sexting refers to sending sexually explicit text messages and photographs over a cell phone. Teens also use social media sites like Facebook and Myspace as well as instant messaging to communicate things of a sexual nature.
No such thing as private message
"This is a practice that sets young people up for consequences that they may not be emotionally ready to handle," said Dr. Peggy Smith, director of the Baylor Teen Health Clinic. "Teens need to realize that once they send something by text or into cyberspace, it's there forever and they no longer have control over it."
Even though sexting is usually done innocently "“ perhaps as a "present" for a boyfriend or girlfriend "“ the person who sends the information cannot count on it being kept confidential. The recipient may share the information as a way of boasting or to embarrass or bully, Smith said. The sender could also become the victim of blackmail or cyberstalking.
Teens and adolescents are urged not to engage in this behavior, Smith said, and parents must also discourage their children from using their cell phones or the Internet for this type of activity.
Sexting impacts future
"Parents should take a leadership role and talk to their children about the consequences of this behavior, especially the fact that it can become part of the public domain and remain there forever, even impacting future college and job searches," she said.
Sexting should become a routine part of parents' conversation with their children about sexual health, along with topics like sexually transmitted infections and condom use, Smith said.
Parents should monitor all Internet use, and cell phones should be viewed in the same way as a car, she added. If parents are paying for it, they should monitor their child's cell phone use.
Dark side of technology
"A phone is a tool that the child is being allowed to use, just like with a car. If it's misused, then parents should renegotiate the use of the tool," Smith said.
Teens use technology to research important sexual health information, Smith noted, but sexting represents the dark side of modern technology.
"There is absolutely no good reason to do it," she said.
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