Most of us look at a smartphone, and we see a piece of plastic with an Internet connection. It’s a tool for communication, and for easily retrieving information we need. Everything from your emergency contact numbers for your extended family, to looking up who played the supporting role in that movie you and your friends are arguing about is at your fingertips. While giving a smartphone to a teen is one part rite of passage, and one part necessity, it can also be a good way to get teens arrested if they aren’t given a safety discussion first.
How A Smartphone Can Make Your Teen a Criminal
A smartphone, used improperly, can get your teen arrested. That is a cold fact, and one that’s important to remember when you sit down to have a talk with them about what they can and can’t do with their device. Because a smartphone keeps records, and those records can be damning if teens display certain behaviors.
There are certain activities teens are at-risk from that, in a few years, they’ll be able to do with impunity. For example, adults sexting each other, or sending nude images to one another, might be a flirty way for adult couples to keep in touch. Teens doing it, however, may be committing a crime. That can be even more dangerous for teens who have an age difference. Something as innocent-seeming as agreeing to meet up with someone younger can have disastrous consequences, even if it’s only a year or so difference in age. Many parents do not fully understand nor contemplate the fact that a child or teen sending or receiving sexually explicit images on their smartphone may be deemed to have committed a criminal offense, with the severity of those charges being quite sobering. In Texas, a law passed in 2011 , SB 407, imposes harsh consequences for teens. For example, a 17 year-old Texas teen can face jail up to 180 days under certain circumstances. In states that have not specifically addressed sexting, it is very possible that the state will defer to its child pornography laws to address the action. While prosecutors tend to be reluctant to pursue aggressive sentences for teens who are caught sexting with a boyfriend or girlfriend, under other circumstances, heavier penalties will apply. In the instance where a sexting image gets distributed to more than one child or teen, more pressure is exerted on the legal system to make an example out of the wrongdoers and impose harsher sentences.
It isn’t just sex that can get teens in trouble when it comes to their smartphones, either. There’s a tendency to treat things said in a virtual space as not real; that saying something to someone online is somehow different than saying it to them in person. However, with cyber-bullying law and harassment laws, what a teen says in a forum, or on a social app, can come back to haunt them.
The line between virtual life, and “real” life is growing hazier every day, and teens need to be aware of that when they’re using their smartphones. For example, there’s an unfortunate tendency online for rape threats and death threats to be used as a form of textual aggression. While it’s unlikely that most senders will follow through on said threats, no one would be surprised if the police came knocking at their door if those threats were shouted across the lunch room. Sending them online is quickly reaching the same level of gravity, and law enforcement is taking online harassment more seriously every day.
Talk About Responsibility Before Handing Over A Smartphone
Teens are already aware of a lot of issues they’re facing, simply by virtue of growing up with the newest generation of technology. However, as a parent, it’s still your job to have that conversation with them. Because if you don’t, it’s likely that someone in a uniform might. Teens are going to make some bad decisions; that’s part of growing up. However, they need to have all the information on hand in order to figure out what the right thing to do is. Sexting, nude photos, and other erotic online activities can cause a storm of legal problems for teens because they are underage. Sometimes all it takes is a year of difference between a teen and a partner for serious problems to erupt. That’s why its better to talk about it, and get it out in the open, before it happens.
If you do allow your teen to use a particular app, I always recommend that parents explore it first because there are many, many inappropriate apps out there. Setting boundaries with the types of apps that your teens are exposed to is easier when you use a trustworthy parental control software. NetSanity offers a suite of services their Appblocker, where certain social media and other apps are profiled and parents can one-click block them, making those dating apps that you may find inappropriate such as Down or YikYak and many others with a one-click solution. They have other ways to enforce parental policies. For example, remotely disabling the camera for Apple devices will stop any ability to snap pictures, use FaceTime, SnapChat, or use other means to share inappropriate images or videos. They have a free trial, so it’s worth checking out if your teen has a mobile device.
Having an open phone policy with your kids and teens as well as ongoing conversations about staying safe, appropriate and KIND when they go online will do more to keep your teen safe more any other action you might take!
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