The news is the stuff of nightmares. In September 2015, Joshua Rabideaux was arrested for sending naked pictures of himself to a minor. He was 19 years old and living in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. He sent the pictures by text message to a girl he knew. She was 13 years old.
When the girl’s father discovered the pictures, he called the police. Rabideaux was arrested and charged with nine felonies: four counts of intentionally contributing to the delinquency of a minor, two counts of possession of child pornography, two counts of exposing himself and one count of causing a child to view or listen to sexual activity.
Last November, he pleaded no contest to four charges and was sentenced to 60 days in jail, 30 days of which could be spent at home, with monitoring. If he violates the terms of his probation, he can go to jail for five years.
The only good news here is that Rabideaux was caught and confessed. But what might have happened if the girl’s father hadn’t seen the pictures? How bad might things have gotten?
All good parents shudder at the thought of their children being solicited by a sexual predator. Teens aren’t known for their discretion, and “sexting” has become a menacing new trend.
Don’t get me wrong … Lots of people flirt by text message, and they have every right to titillate each other. But adolescents tend to undervalue the power of their phones. In an age of shareable snapshots and lightning-quick texting, curious youths can end up in terrifying situations.
How do you keep your teen out of trouble? For concerned parents and guardians, here are some things to keep in mind.
The threat is real
Sexual predators are having a field day with all the technology at their fingertips. There are so many ways to stalk and solicit minors, and if they’re careful, they may never get caught.
There is no shortage of horror stories, but many institutions are recognizing the threat and taking action. In Los Angeles, the Unified School District conducts classes on the dangers of sharing sexually explicit images. Students learn about the harassment, cyberbullying, extortion and blackmail that can easily result from a few saved texts or images.
But there’s another risk, and it has nothing to do with predators. Your teen could get charged for sexual exploitation.
Sometimes these charges are warranted, like when a teen is harassing another teen by sending provocative pictures. But other cases defy reason.
In 2015, a 17-year-old boy in North Carolina was caught exchanging naked pictures with his girlfriend. The exchange was consensual, but both were charged as adults and could have served years in prison. They ultimately pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges, which were dismissed after a period of probation, but their case demonstrates how these kinds of exchanges can have life-changing consequences, no matter how innocent they might seem.
Know the secret texting codes
Not sure what “53X” means? Should you be concerned if you read “LH6”?
Many teens use special acronyms and code words to transmit risqué messages. Even standard emojis have double-meanings that would make any parent blush. Learning some of this language can help crack the digital cipher.
Just remember that this language is always changing. Teens use these code words to keep their meanings hidden — or, as a 16-year-old might put it, “KPC.” (Keep Parents Clueless.)
Click here for a full list of secret texting codes. Warning: Contains graphic language that is probably not suitable for work.
Teens use multiple platforms
Most of us are familiar with “sexting” because it pops up in headlines all the time. But texting isn’t the only way teens can exchange explicit imagery. Far from it.
These days, teens have limitless platforms for communicating with each other. They can use messenger services, like Skype or WhatsApp. They can hold private conversations over Facebook Messenger, Twitter or regular email. They can send shocking photos on Snapchat, thinking the images will disappear after a few seconds.
Rebellious teens have existed since the dawn of time, and if they want to hide their correspondence, they’ll find a way. But it’s wise to know what kinds of apps and social media they’re using, and you should warn them about corresponding online with strangers.
Talking is the best medicine
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If you can have a frank conversation with your children about the dangers of sexting, you should do that. Families with healthy relationships can usually turn to sincerity and transparency to steer teens through treacherous waters.
There are a lot of reasons teenagers would want to have sexually explicit conversations with their peers. Sometimes the conversation is thrilling and validates a teen as attractive and fun. But digital communication has consequences. You don’t have to be Anthony Weiner to end up in hot water.
Keep tabs on your children’s activity on social media, and check their phones as well. When they’re 18, they can have all the privacy they want. Until then, it’s your job to protect them from the hazards they don’t yet appreciate.
How else can you protect yourself from digital danger? Be sure to listen to my podcasts, or download them, or click here to find them on your local radio station. You can listen to the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet or computer. From buying advice to digital life issues, click here for my free podcasts.
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