Monday, July 05, 2010

Cell Phone Sex

A student at school sent an E-mail message to all other students recently because he'd lost his cell phone. He didn't care so much about the phone, he said, but "if you took it, at least put my SIM card in my box."

I thought about it for awhile and wondered how important a memory card in a cell phone would be to a anyone much less a teen in today's mass mediated world. Is it the database of contacts that he would have to recreate?

One recent study by the the Pew Internet and American Life Project shows the wide spread importance of the use of cell phones for teens to stay connected with family and friends. It's not surprising, then, that this young man would be hoping to get that card with all his contact information back. Teen life is so centered around cell phone use and texting that it's difficult to imagine their life without a cell phone.

But we knew already that. Teens depend on cell phones for their daily communications. However it is ironic that parents first began purchasing these devices for their children for safety reasons. Another recent PEW study on Teens and Sexting shows that a growing number of teens send and receive partial or fully nude images of themselves to friends. Also not surprising is the fact that social pressure is a big part of this new activity.

One young woman is quoted in the study saying: "Boys usually ask for them or start that type of conversation. My boyfriend, or someone I really liked asked for them. And I felt like if I didn't do it, they wouldn't continue to talk to me. At the time it was no big deal. But now looking back it was definitely inappropriate and over the line."

But that's just the beginning of this growing problem. Now the legal system is getting involved with teens getting charged in child pornography cases. One 18 year old Florida teen is now listed as a registered sex offender after being convicted of sending nude images of his 16 year old girlfriend to family and friends after an argument. Legislatures across the country are looking at how they can protect teens from over zealous district attorneys and at the same time protect them from the real dangers of child pornography and online predators.

The PEW study and many others point to the ease at which these images and video can end up in the wrong place. School yard dramas play out to the degree that could leave teens either in trouble with the law or much worse.

To me this is yet another place where adults who are responsible for young people in this world need to step in and make sure their charges are educated, knowledgeable of the issues, and that they know how to be safe. Once again, it's not the technology that causes the problem. It's how the technology is used. Keeping track of teen texting and online activities is a healthy and important task for parents, guardians, and schools.