In Others' WordsIn Others' Words

Friday, April 17, 2009

Dr. Phil: When Sexting Hits Home Broadcast

In his April 16th Scary Trends: Is Your Child at Risk segment, Dr. Phil addressed teens and sexting. A relatively new trend, sexting involves middleschoolers or teens sending sexual photos or e-mails to one another on their cell phones.

Dr. Phil's guests included:

  • a mom whose 13-year-old daughter sent a provocative photo of herself to a boy, who then forwarded it to other boys. Dr. Phil also talked to the daughter, who attempted suicide after classmates harassed her.

  • attorney Lisa Bloom, a correspondent for, who discussed the legal debate surrounding sexting.

  • a 13-year-old boy who forwarded a nude photo of a female classmate to another boy. The boy's father also discussed his views.

Overall, I think Dr. Phil did an excellent job of covering the varied problems caused by sexting. However, I'd like you to consider a few things with me:

  1. Dr. Phil said girls who send indecent photos of themselves are victims. “(Boys) can get these girls to do something that they wouldn’t do in a rational moment, and to me, those girls are victims. For some guy to leverage them into doing that, they are victims. They are not perpetrators." Peer pressure is a very real influence in our children's lives. However, peer pressure or not, we need to talk with our daughters about the choices they make--and help them respect themselves. And sometimes they have to face the consequences of a wrong choice. This doesn't mean I think a girl should have to deal with classmates calling her a slut. This doesn't give a boy the right to forward the photo to other classmates. I don't think sexting is the unforgivable sin. Even when a girl is facing consequences, she should be treated compassionately.

  2. Attorney Lisa Bloom downplayed the seriousness of sexting. Talking to the mother of the 13-year-old girl who sexted an inappropriate photo to a boy, Bloom said, "What she did was not out of the mainstream. It’s just that the technology is there now to preserve it and humiliate her.” Please, let's not take an "Everybody's doing it so don't get so upset" approach to sexting. Just because lots of people are making unwise choices doesn't make something less ill-advised, immature or dangerous. The fact that technology can preserve a teen's indiscretion ups the risk factor. Other people--including child pornographers--can potentially gain access to a minor's nude photo. I agree with Bloom that we need to be compassionate with our kids--but that doesn't mean we downplay the seriousness of their actions.

  3. I laughed when the dad said he grounded his son for sharing a sexual text photo with his buddies--but I wasn't amused. Grounded? That's it? Maybe he's grounded for life--okay then. Did the kid lose the privilege of his cell phone? Did he apologize to the girl he embarrassed? I applaud the boy for coming on national television and admitting his wrong choice. I understand why the dad didn't want his son prosecuted as a child pornographer. Check out Bloom's thoughts on that topic here. She had some good thoughts on the dangers of registering teens as sex offenders for sexting. I did like the dad's idea that cell phones come with warnings about sexting and that kids have to tell their parents they understand the issue. Good idea.

As long as kids have cell phones and free will, sexting will be a problem. We need to come up with some appropriate consequences when teens forward sexual photos to classmates because there's no agreement on what to do and sometimes nothing's done. Suggestions, anyone?

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