Sexting - Every Parent's Nightmare
January 13, 2010 (WPVI) -- We ended up purchasing an iPod Touch for our son for Christmas. He hasn't been able to put it down - it has to be his favorite gift ever! But I can't stop thinking about how dangerous a device that thing can be.
He is nine. Three times now I've attempted to have a very adult conversation with him about how some things that you put "out there," whether they be words or pictures, can come back to haunt you. Big time.
I spoke to Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman about this. She has been quite vocal about the dangers of mobile devices and children - especially when the children, and their parents, do not fully understand the damage they can do. I told her I wasn't sure if my son had grasped this concept of, let's say, a photograph that may seem innocent now becoming not-so-innocent once it has been forwarded to dozens, if not hundreds of people.
"You're doing the right thing," Ferman said about my conversations with my son. "One day, he'll get it." Unfortunately, the DA has seen so many instances where children who are much older do not get it at all.
When young teens take nude pictures of themselves and send them to others with their mobile devices, it is called "sexting." The way the laws in Pennsylvania read right now make that act a form of child pornography. Serious stuff.
More on the law in a moment.
Ferman believes one way to deter such an act is to practice good ol' Parenting 101 - be more involved in your children's lives. "These devices, whether it's a phone or an iTouch or a computer with access to the internet, it has the capacity to allow your child access to the entire world, and to all the people out there."
"It's like letting a stranger into your house, and therefore they don't take steps to caution their children about how to use these devices, and they don't take steps to monitor what is going on," Ferman says.
Another way is to learn all about their iPhones, iPods, Nintendo DSI's, Droids, etc. As difficult as that may be.
"I think the reality is you have to be as technologically savvy or more technologically savvy as your kids" Ferman says, "and for a lot of us, that's really hard. A lot of us didn't grow up with this technology."
Another deterrent in the law-enforcing eyes of Ferman may confuse you at first. She wants Pennsylvania lawmakers to reduce the penalty for "sexting" crimes. That's right, reduce the penalty.
Right now, sexting is considered a felony in Pennsylvania. And being charged with a felony can ruin a child's future. Is that fair in these situations?
A conviction under current sexting laws would require 10 years of monitoring as a sex offender (under the state's Megan's Law). Job prospects for the teen offender would suffer long after that.
Does that punishment fit the crime?
Some prosecutors, including Ferman, say in most cases, no. And because of the stigma, there is a reluctance to file such a serious charge on a child caught sexting.
State Rep. Seth Grove (R-York County) is trying to make sexting a misdemeanor. With the lesser charge (and the lesser penalties), Grove believes prosecutors would be more willing to file them against sexting violators - and children would be more likely to get the point. Grove's bill is pending in the state legislature. Ferman supports it.
"Technically when our kids and teenagers are doing this, they're doing something that they look at as being very innocent, but really they are committing felony offenses," Ferman says. "And there are some that feel that is too serious of a designation."
My son's iPod Touch is linked to his Gmail account, it has a child's safe internet browser (called Mobicip which can be purchased as an app) and he has lots of games and home pictures and videos. He does not have phone or texting capability, and there is no camera option. I have also disabled YouTube, and adding apps and iTunes music requires a password (which only I know). He needs a wi-fi connection to connect to the internet, which we have at our home. He knows that I can snoop into his e-mail account at any time (I have not yet).
Eventually, he will be allowed to do many other things with the device, and hopefully by then he will understand why it is so important to be careful. Ferman tells me there is a good chance of that, given we are already talking about these things.
Privacy, it seems, died a while ago, and unfortunately, the children of this world need to remember that with everything they do.
Ferman sums it up: "Parenting hasn't changed a whole lot over the years, you just have to pay attention to what is going on. Whether it's what they use in terms of devices, the way they connect to the outside world, or just the way they interact with friends or other people."
computers, sexting, apple, parenting, matt o'donnell
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