Parents should guide teens on social media use

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Sheriff Julian Whittington speaks during Wednesday's press conference.

Late last month Bossier Parish Sheriff Julian Whittington held a news conference to address the growing incidence of teen “sexting” in our local area – and a current investigation into using social media for sharing of inappropriate photographs.

Whittington’s purpose in holding the news conference was to alert teens – and most important, their parents — that such behavior can lead to criminal charges, along with a warning that the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office would be vigilant in investigating such violations of the law. Whittington was joined at the news conference by representatives of all Bossier Parish law enforcement agencies and the Bossier Parish School Board and Bossier Webster District Attorney Schyler Marvin.

Addressing those concerns should be at the top of every parent’s to-do list in helping children develop the judgment needed to ethically and effectively use today’s electronic technology.

This isn’t an exclusive Bossier Parish problem. A brief on-line search on the subject of sexting turns up news stories from Fort Wayne, Indiana; Greensburg, Pennsylvania; and Batesville, Ohio just to name a few. Further, the results of a 2012 study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine Journal reported that 28 percent of teenagers reported sending a nude photograph of themselves through e-mail or by text message.

While photos of this nature are often considered pornographic in nature according to the laws of various states, most teens are not aware of such laws and the potentially devastating consequences of violating those laws.

Add to that the fact that most teens do not understand is that such photos don’t always stay with the intended recipient, can end up in certainly unintended hands, and generally cannot be deleted after leaving the sender’s phone or tablet or computer – and we have the adolescent absence of forethought about actions and consequences experienced by most teenagers.

Most parents won’t allow their teens to drive without taking a driver’s education course. Such a path to the privilege of driving usually results in responsible drivers, lower insurance costs, and fewer accidents.

Irresponsible use of cell phones and computers can result in consequences equally as damaging as unsafe drivers – but parents don’t seem as aware of the potential for misuse and “criminal” behavior with electronic media.

We all know that texting or e-mailing nude photos is unlawful and can result in child pornography charges. But the consequences of other electronic media misuses can be terribly destructive also.

As noted by Whittington: “Not only have young people been exploited, violated or embarrassed, but we have seen across the nation where these actions have led to suicide, a truly horrific end of a precious life.”

While some states have created new laws to address teen sexting issues by making them misdemeanor offenses, at least one Pennsylvania juvenile criminal defense attorney says even that route can lead to teens damaging their futures.

“Not understanding the ramifications of actions is the hallmark of teenage behavior,” said Michael J. Skinner. “Kids need to know not to send nude images of themselves and others, but they need to learn that from parents and teachers, not the district attorney.”

Accordingly, the Bossier Parish School Board’s administration has “pledged it full cooperation to the Sheriff’s Office in taking an active role in heightening awareness and educating both students and parents about this serious issue …”

Now it’s time for parents to make the same pledge – we take the keys for irresponsible use of a multi-ton vehicle. Surely we can take the phone or tablet or computer from our kids, when, having been counseled on responsible use of the item — demonstrate irresponsibility instead.

 

Marty Carlson is a columnist for the Bossier Press-Tribune. She may be reached via email at m_carlso@bellsouth.net