Just Don’t Leave Any Evidence

It usually works like this. Mike and Stephanie are “a thing.” Their relationship is the talk of their high school. Mike convinces Stephanie to send him a picture of her wearing a thong…or less. Stephanie does, because, after all, that’s what guys like, right? What music video doesn’t have girls showing off their goods? That’s what girls are supposed to do!

A month later Mike and Stephanie break up. Angry, Mike shows the picture of Stephanie to a bunch of his friends. “Looks at what a slut she is!”

Within 4 hours Stephanie is sent her own photo by a friend. “Look what Mike is sending around.”

Stephanie is mortified. She wishes she would never have sent the photo.

“Well don’t worry Stephanie, have we got a solution for you!” (Enter cheesey music and graphics here!) “Just use the new iPhone app called SnapChat. ShapChat allows you to send a picture to your friends that only lasts a designated number of seconds…then it’s gone forever!”

I wish I was kidding. But SnapChat is quite real. Last week it was #12 on the free iOS photo app charts in the U.S. I tried the app to see how it works. Click a pic, choose how many seconds you want someone to see it, then send it to whoever you want. No accountability at all.

Isn’t it nice that, once again, we’re teaching young people the wrong lessons? Instead of teaching them to make the right choices in the first place, we’re teaching them, “Don’t leave any evidence of your bad choices.”

App creator Evan Spiegel denies that the app is for sexting, but readily admits that the app was partially inspired by the Anthony Weiner scandal (Weiner is the congressman that Tweeted photos helping him live up to his last name).

Hmmmm. So what is the app for?

Let me not lead you astray and try to convince you that the majority of teenagers are sending naughty pictures or sexual texts to each other. Not even close. As far as I can tell, about 4 percent of minors age 12-17 have sent these kind of messages, and about 15 percent have received them. When it comes to 18 and 19-year-olds, the percentages grow rapidly. Regardless of the numbers, when young people see the subject dealt with in the media today, what message are they hearing about choices and their consequences? Just don’t leave any evidence?

(If you’re curious about where all these “sexting” numbers came from, I encourage you to read this Youth Culture Window article I wrote a few years ago about the whole sexting hype, Fact or Fiction. Then you can read my blog about the Pew Research report that claims only 4% of teenagers age 12-17 have sent sexually suggestive, nude, or nearly nude images of themselves to someone else via text messaging, and my conversation with the report author Amanda Lenhart about her numbers.)

Equipping Teenagers to Make Decisions
What are we teaching our teenagers…or are we leaving that up to someone else? Do teenagers understand that choices have consequences? Can mistakes like this be covered up if we just take precautions and use slick little CYA tools like SnapChat?

In all honesty, I probably wouldn’t bring up SnapChat if I was talking to a youth group (unless it was an app that I saw the majority of my group using), but I would definitely talk about the concept of choices and their consequences. The subject of decision-making goes way beyond how we use our cell phones. At the same time, cell phone “mistakes” might be a good way to introduce the subject of decisions and their consequences.

Last week the Sydney Morning Herald ran an article titled, Teen Sext Haunts Man 7 Years Later. The story is about a young man’s impulsive decision to email two pictures of himself and his girlfriend having sex when they were 17. That quick decision still haunts the 24-year-old today, now a registered sex offender.

We wrote a discussion using the article as a springboard to talk about Galatians, Chapter 6 where it says, “You reap what you sow.” This free piece of curriculum on our website has small group questions, scripture and a wrap up, and is a great example of a tool to talk with teenagers about choices and their consequences.

What about you?
Have you had any personal experience with young people posting or sending something they regretted? How did you handle the situation?

How have you talked with teenagers about these issues?

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; Sex Matters; The Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket; and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers; Connect; and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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6 Responses to Just Don’t Leave Any Evidence

  1. BJ McMichael says:

    Great article…thanks for the research. The scary thing about this idea that you can do something with no consequences or no evidence is the fact that a kid could receive the picture and (I’m guessing because I have not downloaded the app) take a screen shot with their phone and still have the pic, even though it was only supposed to last a couple of seconds.

    Sin has a way of exposing us…especially when we think we have outsmarted it!

  2. Rick Nier says:

    If only evidence were the real problem. I don’t know if anyone would think quickly enough to take a screenshot, but there’s a lesson in there for how long images stay in our mind. Besides all that, I agree the issue is a disconnect between our actions and the consequences that follow. Not getting caught won’t be the problem. Becoming more bold in our sin will be the trend that comes from something like this app.

    • Jonathan says:

      Rick, screenshots are an instant two-button command on an iphone… they probably would! (Doesn’t negate your point, though…)

      • LJ says:

        Am I understanding correctly? – On some phones an instant picture can be taken of the screen that the shapchat picture is sent to making it NOT private anymore? That person now can keep it in their files and send it to others? In addition, what’s to say a group of people who are together with phones couldn’t take a picture of the phone’s screen that the picture was sent to.
        Total violation in my opinion, that is if I’m understanding it correctly.

  3. Thanks for the post. I was gonna post a link to this post on FB, but then I remembered that way too many of my teens are on my friends list and this is just WAY too good of an idea. This is the app that we don’t want our teens finding out about! Just what they need, more incentive to be less responsible! Props to the app creator though– they DEFINITELY know what teens are looking for.

  4. Drew Achong says:

    Great article, Jonathan! I agree that we need to find ways to address these topics without giving students the apps to try or the idea to try it. I’ve got one of our pastor’s kids building rockets out of 5 gallon water bottles in their back yard and trying to find ways to attach cameras to record the launches. They don’t need help coming up with unusual ideas. They need help interpreting ways to use their ideas for the glory of God (by the way, we took that idea and we’re having him launch the rocket as part of our VBS program this summer).

    Leonard Sweet spoke to us at a conference a couple years ago about how our jobs as youth leaders/pastors is no longer to provide students with information. Our job is to help them interpret the knowledge they find on their own and filter it through the Gospel. I think that applies to apps and social media as well.

    Just a side note to Rick, I was trying to find a way to record screen shots from a game on my Android the other week to use in a Bible study. I watched a YouTube video from a 12-year old on how to download, install, and run a program that does just that. Granted the majority of teens probably wouldn’t take the time to do it, but it is kind of scary that a preteen is showing me how to do it in the first place. I agree, though, there are both issues of both the mental image we are left with and the disconnect between our actions and their consequences.

    Great posts and responses!