When I was a teen, there was a central line coming into the house. There was one phone. We all shared it. Raise your hand if you remember these days and the phone being connected to the wall… by a cord… that was continually getting twisted. It might have looked something like this:

(I think the kids are calling this vintage nowadays.)

Any hope for some phone privacy meant maneuvering and stretching the phone cord all the way into the closet down the hall. Everyone in the house knew you were on the phone and usually who was on the other end of the call. Super private.

Today privacy, when it comes to phones, looks a little different. Phones have become more like fashion statements with absolutely no cords to be found. We bedazzle our phones with jewels, accessorize them with slogans or personalize them with special ringtones. And quite often we guard our phones with a little security code for extra privacy.

Phone privacy for those of us from the “phone cord generation” was non-existent. But what about for our teenagers now? Is there too much privacy out there for our teens? How do we seek to parent our kids well so they can make wise choices for themselves in this area?

Facts and Numbers

Recent reports show an increase in what is termed sextinga play on words that indicates sexually explicit photos or videos being sent via texting.

Parents, we need to recognize and think hard about how we engage with our teen and their phones. What does “privacy” really mean and how do we empower our teens and not abandon them to this world of electronics? It is important to know some of the facts regarding teenagers and phones:

  • 19% of teens ages 13-19, have sent sexually-suggestive pictures of videos of themselves via email, cell phone, or other electronic means
  • 44% of these teens were asked to send the photo/video
  • Older teens are much more likely to send and receive “sexts”
  • 17% of teens who pay for their own phone bills are more likely to send sexts versus just 3% of teens who do not pay for their cell phone bill
  • Teens with unlimited-text messaging plans—75% of cell-phone owning teens—are more likely to receive sexts

Now there’s no need to automatically jump to the conclusion that every teen is in the 19%. But, hey I do believe we can expect good things from our teens, help them learn to make those good decisions and a part of that will happen if we as parents continue to stay informed.

So let’s begin staying informed right now

Have you heard of Snapchat? It is an app that provides a way to have your pictures and history deleted seconds after it is sent. Send or receive an explicit picture and within seconds it disappears… like magic it creates a new way to hide.

While I do not think there is a need to jump to the conclusion that every teen is sexting or using this app inappropriately, I do believe we need to be engaged with what apps our teens are downloading and how they are using them. I believe teens can make good choices, by our being informed, as parents, we can create the ground for real conversations to happen.

Empowering our teens is important. Here’s a quote from a fabulous internet safety blogger in her article Snapchat Makes Sexting Easy:

“Snapchat would allow a child or teen to send nude photos to their friends without fear of becoming the laughing stock of the school or ending up on a porn site, but we should expect more from our children.We should expect them to make good decisions for themselves, regardless of how easy technology makes it from them to do otherwise. My hope is that you will take this knowledge and use it to leverage your vigilance at home. Keep an eye out for this app on your child’s iPhone, iPod or iPad. If you see that they’ve downloaded it, chances are it’s time to sit down and…have a conversation.”

(Emphasis my own).

Parents, cell phones are a part of life — so let’s help teens make good choices. If they have the app, ask them how they use it and why. Be informed, engaged and try to listen before you speak.

Boy in our day, sexting and a rotary dial just weren’t compatible, were they? Remember how long it took just to dial your best friend’s 7-digit number?!?

This is my last post this week about cell phone safety and awareness. I’d love to hear more from you. Have any tips you’d consider offering other parents for learning how to best help our teens manage these electronic devices? Please do share!

~ becky