In today’s world texting has become a very common way for people to communicate with each other. If I go to a baseball game or the theater, I see adults texting the entire time. I have even seen people fired via text. While it is becoming very common with adults, it is even more common with teenagers. The teenagers I see for psychotherapy text all the time. It appears that texting is now the preferred way that teenagers communicate with each other. If you remove their cellphones and they cannot text, many teens become very upset and I have seen many become violent.
While technology is advancing at a fast pace, our laws and ethics are having a difficult time keeping up with the latest advances. However, when laws are passed or ethical standards set, many teenagers and adults are not aware of the new laws. This is creating a tremendous problem for teenagers and their families. I have worked with many teenagers who are struggling with an issue due to texting and they had no idea they were doing anything inappropriate.
First, it is important to note that any time you post something, tweet or text, it is on the internet forever. This is why many celebrities have won very large monetary judgements against people who have posted false or embarrassing material. You can remove it from the site it was posted to, but it still can found on other sites. Therefore, if a teenager post something, they need to think about the fact that it will be out there forever and anyone can see it. This may lead to embarrassing situations.
Let’s consider the most common problems that teenagers encounter. The first one is texting sexually explicit photographs to their boyfriend/girlfriend. At the time they think it is no big deal. However, high school romances typically do not last. If one of the individuals feels hurt, they can post that sexually explicit picture all over the Internet. It can be sent to their families and friends. In fact, their entire school could see it. This would be extremely embarrassing. Even if the person who posted the picture is punished, the picture is still out there and the damage is done.
Additionally, teenagers fail to think about the fact that they are under 18 years old. Therefore, they could be violating child pornography laws by sending the picture or by receiving it and having a copy on their cellphone. In fact, Congress is trying to pass stricter laws regarding teenagers texting sexually explicit picture. Therefore, besides being very embarrassed, the teenagers involved might find themselves facing legal charges for violating child pornography laws.
The second major issue is harassment. Friends get mad at each other or often one teenager is singled out and they become the object of numerous texts telling them they are ugly, no one likes them etc. These texts can be sent so often and by some many other teenagers that the teen who is the target commits suicide. There are numerous examples of this and a common one is accusing a teenager of being gay. This is not harmless teenage game playing. This harassment can be vicious. They are also cases where the teenagers sending these texts have been charged with stalking or more serious charges if the teenager committed suicide.
When this occurs, the teenagers are shocked. They think they were just teasing another kid and it was harmless. They have no idea what this teenager is already dealing with in their life or what it can be like to have numerous classmates texting you every day all day long. It is not harmless teasing, but because technology has increased so quickly it is not the same teasing that use to occur at school. We have not had enough time to think about this point.
The last major issue is that texting is an excellent way for schools or police to arrest teenagers for dealing drugs, buying or using drugs. I have worked with many teenagers from numerous schools where the school catches someone using or selling marijuana on school grounds. The school then checks the student’s cellphone and looks at the text history. The school then starts calling in the student’s on the text history and asking about drug use or selling. One teenager getting caught at school can result in ten teenagers being expelled. The teenagers are usually in shock. First, they never thought they were doing anything wrong and they never thought a text could get them in trouble. However, it can and it does. I have seen many teenagers for psychotherapy because of a text found by the school.
Parents, we see adults getting into trouble due to texts they have sent, what makes us think that teenagers can’t get into trouble too? Remember they are not grown adult yet, so their ability to think logically as an adult is not fully developed. Even if it was, technology is moving so fast that adults are getting into trouble due to texting. Therefore, we cannot expect teenagers to be able to sort all of this out on their own. Talk to your teen about texting, you may need to monitor their texting. There are apps that can help teenagers identify texts that may be inappropriate. Bottom line teenagers need to support and guidance from their parents regarding the ever evolving technology that we are facing. If we cannot keep up with the ethical issues, how can a teenager?
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with 20 years of experience working with children and teenagers. He also treats Internet addiction. For more information on Dr. Rubino’s work or his private practice visit his website at http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at http://www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.