An interesting article a few weeks ago out of the United Kingdom has me wondering who’s responsible when children and teens are caught “sexting”? According to The Guardian, there are children as young as 4 years of age sharing indecent photos of themselves via smartphones, 9 yr. old children posting nude pictures of themselves on Facebook Messenger and Instagram. Between Jan. 2017 and Aug. 2019, in the United Kingdom there were 6,499 cases of underage children sexting, cases investigated by British authorities, cases where some of those children actually ended up with criminal records.
Where are the adults who are putting smartphones and computers in the hands of minors?
It’s hard to expect children, even teenagers, to understand the serious consequences of sexting. Sexting for children seems to be the 21st century version of the childish game of “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine.” A game that’s been played forever, but never like this. Young children don’t think twice before clicking and sending a photo, it’s just one of many fun things they can do with the smartphone or computer their parents gave them. They don’t fully comprehend the inappropriateness of certain kinds of photos, they may not understand or ever have been given any guidance in appropriate boundaries. They are children, there are things they don’t know unless we teach them.
Teenagers on the other hand, while they may understand why you shouldn’t sext, are most likely do it anyway because, well, because they’re teens. Teens test boundaries and often do things they know they shouldn’t. Bowing to peer pressure gets many an otherwise “good kid” in trouble they normally wouldn’t get in to. Sexting can end up as trouble that even a parent can’t easily “fix”.
Smartphones and computers are extensions of our children and teens, they’ve never known life without them. For them, these devices are part of their universe. While practical and educational, they are a form of entertainment, they are toys, they are modern day babysitters as well as extensions of young adult’s social lives. These age groups don’t give much thought to the fact that there are serious hazards to using this technology.
So, when our children, our teens are arrested for sexting, who will we blame? Pandora’s box has been opened, taking smartphones and computers away from our kids is never going to happen. Every week we hear about more minors in trouble for sexting, whole groups of school age children caught up in an offense that could potentially get them incarcerated, that could put them on the registry, that will leave a black stain on future educational and employment opportunities. And yet, knowing all this, most parents continue to believe, “that could never happen to my child.”
I once read something to the effect that “a child today is more likely to end up on the registry than to be the victim of someone on the registry”. Handing our children smartphones and computers without providing them education and supervision, we are setting them on a course that may not end well.
Adults need to be as smart as the smartphones and computers they are handing over to children. Educate and supervise. While phones can entertain, they are not toys. There may be real adult consequences to your child, your teen, naively doing something stupid with the phone you gave them.
And really, what 4 yr. old needs a smartphone?