Five years ago when my son was 14, I had to renew my cell phone contract and upgrade to newer technology. The company offered me the opportunity to share my minutes with another person. My son was starting high school and for the first time in his life would be out on his own traveling to and from school. So, I thought it would be a good idea to get him a phone so he could keep in touch with me. Plus, having a phone, in my mind, was a safety feature in case of an emergency.
We both got the same phone and it was loaded with features. It could text, had a camera and could be customized with special ring-tones. I even bought the package to allow us to send a certain number of text messages.
At the time, I thought I was being a responsible adult. And, as with most parents and children, we had our ups-and-downs. Sometimes I would call and, rather than answer the phone, he would ignore the call and let it go to voicemail. And because my cell phone plan offered free nights and weekends, he would spend hours on the phone with all of his friends, thus saving me the charges on my home phone line. I am sure many parents have done the same as I did - supplied their children with cell phones because we've seen it more in terms of safety and security.
Now, cell phones have become a tool for the world of child pornography. How? Because as parents we haven't kept up with technology and current teenage and young people crazes. And the current one for young people is called "sexting," which is the combination of the words sex and texting.
As many of the newer cell phone models have cameras, our boys and girls are taking nude pictures of themselves. That phenomenon is most prevalent amongst young girls, but boys are not exempt. They take nude pictures of themselves using their cell phones and then send the photos to their friends. Girls are sending their pictures to their boyfriends or boys that they like. Boys are doing it because they think it is funny or exploring their sexuality. They can even upload their photos to the internet where the images can remain for a long time.
And if parents haven't kept up with technology and current trends, then neither has the law. When most of us hear the term "child pornography," we think of dirty old men taking advantage of unwilling and under age children. We think of young people who are forced into doing something against their will or too young to have a say so in what is being done to them. But in recent days, a number of young people under the age of 18 have been hit with child pornography charges. How does that happen? Well, most laws are written to be incident specific and not necessarily age specific for the perpetrator. So in New Jersey for example, a14-year-old girl who posted nude photos she took of herself on her MySpace page has been charged with distribution and possession of child pornography.
There have also been incidents all over the country of boys receiving nude photos of girls sent to them via the girl's cell phone. Those boys, once they have ended a relationship with the girl, have shared the photos with their friends as payback. The boy who sends the photo is subsequently charged with distribution of child pornography. If a young boy gets a nude photo of an underage girl and is found with the image still on his cell phone, he can be charged with possession of child pornography. In both cases, the children who are both victim and perpetrator in these situations can be forced to register as sex offenders.
I am urging all parents to talk with their children about their cell phones and what they use it for. Too often, our children only think in terms of how much fun doing something wrong might be. Or, that they are young rebels and out to change the world. They are not aware of how a moment's indiscretions can, in today's world, follow them around for the rest of their lives.
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