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?