For every new technology, there are the (usually young) early embracers and then the (usually older) grumps who decry it as the downfall of humanity. Throughout recent history, people who we will now call curmudgeons have decried such modern inventions as the bicycle, the car, the airplane, the computer, and the microwave. One of today’s victims is the text message. And I have to confess that I’m one of those curmudgeons most of the time, and for good reason. Not only is texting and driving causing fatal accidents among our teens and college students, another use of the text message is endangering our young children’s welfare – and that use is nicknamed “sexting.”
The word “sexting” is an amalgam of the words “sex” and “texting,” and it consists of just what you might expect – sending explicitly sexual messages and even photos via text message. While “sexting” has made the talk show rounds as a phenomenon common among teens and college students, it is unfortunately true – as a recent Gwinnett County criminal case indicates – that sexting has also been used among of-age sexual predators to swap messages with their teen victims. No matter who the sender and the recipient, children have been known to abuse the power and relative ease of text messaging by sending obscene or inappropriately sexual messages, or even using a cell phone’s built in camera to send obscene pictures. Some teens, even minors under 18, have even been prosecuted on child pornography charges due to images they sent and received through sexually explicit text messages.
The Gwinnett County case took place in Lilburn, where Thomas Hartridge Bacot, 32, was recently arrested on charges of sexual exploitation of a child and electronic transmission of obscene material to a minor. The minor in this case? A 14-year-old girl.
Bacot’s attorney asked for and received a 30-day continuance to gather more information from an internet service provider, but Gwinnett County District Attorney John Warr told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that he expects the plea hearing to take place sometime during the week of October 19th and that he had expected the defendant to plead guilty to the charges.
The teenage years are a difficult time for a parent. Children want their freedom and privacy while parents are often still unsure whether that freedom and privacy has been earned. In a recent post on teens and internet use here on the MLN Law Blog, we posted about children and technology expert Jim Fisher. He had this to say on the subject of parents, teens and personal responsibility: “let the leash out slowly” and feed kids “bite-sized chunks of responsibility as they mature.”
The same should apply to texting. Instead of handing children a cell phone as soon as they are old enough to push the buttons, make them earn the privilege of private communication by showing responsibility first. And even then, be sure to monitor your child’s calls and text messages. This may mean allowing your child access to the phone for only one hour per day at first, or disabling texting altogether.
Tomorrow, I will offer more tips on how to prevent your child from sexting and advice on what to do should you find that sexting has occurred.