Invading teen’s privacy – how far is too far?

Posted by Phil

by Sandi Black on Thursday, December 29, 2011

This article is courtesy of Living with Teenagers magazine.

Most parents want their teens to have some freedom. But in today’s world, some freedoms can be unhealthy, harmful, and even dangerous. Without a doubt, parents need to establish proper boundaries for their teens. And, at the same time, kids want and actually need some privacy. So how can you balance independence with your parental right to invade their space?

Here are some facts about today’s teens that can serve as foundational points:

  • If your son is on a computer without an Internet filter to block porn sites, he’s probably “taking a peek” at sexual Web sites. Guys are wired that way because God created males to be visual creatures.
  • Teens are curious. They naturally want to know about things their parents consider unacceptable. In some cases, telling them not to do something may actually be taken as a dare.
  • Media exposes girls to various morals, cultural messages, and lifestyles. Images and sexual ideas that were once taboo are now perfectly acceptable in a secular world.
  • Adolescents get mixed messages as they process what the church says, what their parents say, and what the media says. They long to fit in socially with their friends, which adds to their confusion.

Early adolescence is a time of concrete thinking. Acting on impulse is the norm, and little thought goes into evaluating consequences. Media reports highlight many of the problems and dangers teens (and parents) might face.

So, how far is too far when it comes to spying on your teenagers’ habits? How can you know the difference between “what you need to know” and when to give your kid more space? Here are some basic guidelines:

  1. Follow your instincts. If you suspect something’s wrong, you are usually right. Even if you are wrong, it’s always best to err on the side of safety. In addition to Internet issues, this would include cell phone usage and searching rooms or personal items.
  2. It is important to have a good handle on the Internet-even if there are no signs of a problem. Parents should know all their teens’ passwords and should monitor their social networking randomly. If they show a lack of responsibility, take them off all networks for a month or so.
  3. Insist that you be added as a “friend” so you can view their status, the language they use, and the pictures they post. Again, if they show a lack of maturity, do not pay for their Internet access.
  4. Invest in good Internet filtering/blocking software for the computer. Make sure the computer is in a common room with the screen visible from different angles.
  5. Occasionally, view their browser history. Do your homework by becoming savvy regarding all the computer commands, networks, and Web sites that you allow your teen to use.
  6. Let your teens know you are on their side. You want to let them have some privacy, but God has entrusted their safety to you. Say something like, “I really don’t want to control you. I truly want to trust you, but you have to show me that I can trust you.”

Someone has said that parents spend too much time “correcting and too little time connecting” with their kids. Be intentional about giving affirmation and encouragement for every correction.

Bite your tongue when you’re tempted to lecture and learn to listen a little better. You can learn about their world best by listening more than talking. Plus, taking time out to be with them says, “You are important in my life, and I enjoy being with you.”

Finally, if you sense that your teen’s actions might be out of control, seek help. Consult a trusted pastor, a professional Christian counselor, or an0ther community resource. Often God speaks through sermons, through His Word, through a youth pastor, or other godly adults. Don’t hesitate to get an assessment of your situation. When necessary, consult a doctor who specializes in adolescents because God also can work through doctors and medication.

Above all, pray for guidance and direction in choosing the best help for your teen. Hopefully you will find a good balance regarding privacy and healthy parental “snooping” so you can lead your teen toward a healthier future.

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Sexting: A growing problem among teens

Posted by Phil


by Polly House on Monday, December 19, 2011

If parents and student leaders think their precious teens aren’t sending naked pictures of themselves to their boyfriends and girlfriends, they need to think again. It’s happening.

Students (teens age 12-17) are using their mobile phones as portable pornography devices.

There’s a name for this: sexting. It’s defined as sending sexually suggestive messages or photos via text messaging on mobile phones.

Sexting went mainstream in June 2011 when the national news outlets reported New York Representative Anthony D. Weiner sent suggestive photographs of himself to women he met over the Internet. Some of them returned the “favor,” setting off a firestorm of controversy. Calls for his resignation from Congress came from both Democrats and Republicans.

While Weiner was adamant that he would not resign his seat, claiming he had broken no laws, pressure from his Democratic colleagues led to his June 16 resignation.

This was an adult who certainly should use better judgment, but teens need a good dose of judgment as well. They are old enough to know better, but sadly, studies show they aren’t doing better.

A survey conducted by The Pew Internet and American Life Project in 2009 including only minors (age 12-17) said 4 percent of mobile phone-owning teens say they have sent sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images or videos of themselves to someone else via text message, and 15 percent have received such messages.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy* and* commissioned a survey of teenagers age 13-19 to explore electronic activity in 2008. (Note this study was more than three years ago.)

This survey said that 22 percent of girls and 18 percent of boys have sent nude or seminude pictures or videos of themselves via mobile phone. The survey also said that 37 percent of girls and 40 percent of boys said they had sent sexually suggestive messages to someone.

Mandy Crow, editor of EC, a student devotional magazine published by LifeWay, said church kids are not immune.

“We talk with teens and student leaders often,” she said. “We hear this everywhere. It’s happening with church kids just like unchurched kids.

“They seem to think it’s flirty or funny,” Crow said. “They just don’t see the long-term consequences.”

A panel of girls’ ministry leaders talked about sexting during a large group session at the 2011 Girls’ Ministry Forum. LifeWay’s Girls Ministry Director Pam Gibbs acknowledged it’s a conversation church leaders must be involved in.

“These young girls are sometimes naïve,” Gibbs said. “Often, they are good kids and just want to be popular. They don’t get it that this is something that can follow them for the rest of their lives.”

The panel agreed that sexting is happening with church kids. It often comes out of peer pressure or boyfriend/girlfriend insistence.

According to the NCPTUP study (relating to those who admitted to having sent or posted sexually suggestive content):

  • 71 percent of teenage girls and 67 percent of teenage guys who have sent or posted sexually suggestive content say they have sent or posted this content to a boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • 21 percent of teenage girls and 39 percent of teenage boys say they have sent such content to someone they wanted to date or “hook up with” (euphemism for casual sexual encounter).
  • 44 percent of both teenage girls and teenage boys say it is common for sexually suggestive text messages to be shared with people other than the intended recipient.
  • 36 percent of teenage girls and 39 percent of teenage boys say it is common for nude or seminude photos to be shared with people other than the intended recipient.

MTV,* a television network known for programming related to youth culture, aired “Sexting In America: When Privates Go Public.”

Two young adults were profiled. At the time of the program, one was a 19-year-old girl who, at age 16, sent a nude photograph of herself to an ex-boyfriend who said he would get back together with her if she would send it. The boy instead sent the photo to everybody in his contact list and soon her photo was all over the school.

She said she not only felt betrayed but experienced “brutal and terrible harassment” from classmates that included vulgar name-calling.

A young man,** 20 when the program was made, received naked pictures from his girlfriend when he was 17. They had a fight and he retaliated by calling up the picture on his cell phone and hitting the “send all” on his contact list. The girl’s picture went out to more than 70 people, including friends, teachers, parents and grandparents.

But by that time, he’d had his 18th birthday — still in high school but legally an adult.

He was arrested for distributing child pornography — she was still 17 — and put on five years’ probation. In addition, he was required to register on the public sex offender list.

He said he was kicked out of college, can’t find a job and can’t live with his dad because his dad’s house is near a school. He is required to attend a class for sex offenders, where, as he said, he’s sitting in a room with “perverts and rapists.”

Unless his attorney is successful in getting him taken off the list, he could remain on the sex offender list until he is in his 40s.

Depending on state laws, being on a sex offender list places limits on where a person can live and with whom they can associate. It also can limit the activities they can legally do.

These two young adults profiled on the MTV program didn’t claim to be Christians or profess involvement in a church, but “good church kids” are not immune to the pressure of sexting.

Crow said it’s important that student leaders and parents be proactive in dealing with sexting.

“Bottom line, it’s child pornography,” she said.

“Student leaders need to help parents know what to do and how to talk to their teenagers about sexting,” she said. “Parents need to be empowered to speak out. The issue isn’t going away.”

While laws vary from state to state, the person creating and sending the image is possibly looking at charges of child pornography and sexual exploitation of a minor. Being convicted of those charges can carry up to 20 years in prison.

While almost two dozen states are considering changes to laws that would separate sexting from the same category as child pornography, that hasn’t happened yet.

Crow said, “Helping students understand that once they hit ‘send’ they have lost all control of where that photo or video goes is a place to begin the conversation.”

Starting the conversation on sexting

Mandy Crow, editor of LifeWay’s EC magazine, and Pam Gibbs, girls ministry director, suggested parents and youth ministry leaders ask questions such as these to get the conversation started on sexting:

  • Do you know anyone who has posted or sent an inappropriate photo to a website or mobile phone?
  • How would you feel if your nude photo were sent to your parents or grandparents?
  • How would you feel if your nude photo were sent to your youth minister or pastor?
  • How would you feel if your picture were printed out and hung up all over your school?
  • Do you understand that once in cyberspace, a picture will never go away?
  • Do you honestly believe that anyone who would ask you to send an inappropriate photo of yourself on your mobile phone respects you enough to keep it private?
  • Do you understand that you must assume you are always in a place where mobile phones are present and at any time you may be photographed or videoed without your knowledge or permission?
  • Do you understand that you must have absolutely no expectation of privacy anywhere you go?


*Reader/Viewer discretion is highly recommended ** ABC News Nightline article on the same young man

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Conversation Starters: Watching Others

Posted by Phil

There is a fine line between judging others and holding them accountable. Learning to follow Jesus in community with friends, almost always bring hints of conflict as we struggle through this. Help your kids begin to understand these topics from an early age… Not to mention learning how to love people through these times.

For Preschoolers
Are all boys and girls good?
When someone does something you think is bad, what should you do?
How can you still be his or her friend?

For Children
How do you know when someone is disobeying God?
Is someone always wrong because they do something different than you? Why or why not?
What does it mean to judge somebody?

For Students
What’s the difference between judging and rebuking?
Why are we so quick to criticize and condemn others?
How can you balance loving weaker Christians and standing strong in your own beliefs?

I can imagine that this can be a tough subject. Did you learn anything that could help the rest of us?

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