TEENS AND LAW
Deacon John Marques de Silva
Director, Office of Child Protection
Diocese of Arlington, Virginia
In northern Virginia, local high schools in 2015 attempted to deal with the issue of sexting. Sexting may be defined as “the act of sending sexually explicit messages, videos or photos electronically, using a cell phone or email” (Sexting, GuardChild). Currently, it is a felony, and if convicted, one may be sentenced 7 to 10 years in prison, and registered as a sexual offender.
The Pew Internet & American Life Project held a focus group which revealed through a “nationally representative survey of those ages 12 to 17” (Teens and Sexting, Amanda Lenhart) three main reasons why teens sext:
1. exchange of images solely between two romantic partners;
2. exchanges between partners that are shared with others outside the relationship and;
3. exchanges between people who are not yet in a relationship, where at least one person hopes to be.
The fact is that cell phones have become part and parcel of a tween/teen’s life. There has been a dramatic increase in teen ownership when comparing 2004 and 2009 numbers: The results of the 2004 Pew Internet Survey of Teens demonstrated:
- 18 percent (2004) vs. 58 percent (2009) of teens aged 12 owned a cell phone,
- 64 percent (2004) vs. 83 percent (2009) of teens aged 17 owned a cell phone.
It is not just ownership that has changed, but usage, as well. In the same survey, “of 800 youth ages 12 to 17 conducted from June 26 to September 24, we found that 75 percent of all teens those ages own a cell phone and 66 percent of teens use text messaging.” Texting has become central to the life of a teen and that unfortunately also means that abuses of the privilege follow close behind. What may we expect in the future? CBS reported on April 7, 2015, that Child Guide Magazine reported that 53 percent of all kids now receive a cell phone at age six.
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