Can you imagine a vacation with jet skis, water slides and friends? What would you do? Would you lock yourself in a room on your cell phone for the entire vacation? That is what 14-year-old Ann did. Ann is addicted to sexting. (I have changed Ann's name to protect her identity.)
Ann's mother watched as her once loving, warm and outgoing daughter became increasingly withdrawn and stopped letting anyone touch her. She locked herself in her room all day. She was not watching videos, playing games, listening to music, reading or writing. She was on her phone. These were the first signs that Ann was developing an addiction to sexting.
Ann’s mother cried, as she described the rapid decent her daughter made into the ugly adult world of pornography, sexting, role-playing and chatting with perpetrators in a few short months.
Sexting is text messages that are about sex
Sexually related texts are sent via the Internet from smart phones, iPods, iPads, notebooks, laptops or even analog phones. They can be as simple as a sexual joke or innuendos, or as complicated as crimes involving videos, photos and detailed role-playing. The damage to children is similar to sexual abuse. Victims can become addicted.
The FBI reports that 1 in 6 children have received nude photos and 20 percent of teens have sent nude photos of themselves. See more FBI information on sexting here.
Ann’s mother said the signs that Ann was slipping away were there. It began gradually with friends who were already involved and then escalated quickly.
Here is a list of some of the warning signs that Ann’s mother noticed:
An obsessive attachment to the cell phone
Exploding when anyone touched it or tried to take it away from her.
Increased time alone
Withdrawing from friends and family, including activities and events previously enjoyed.
Changes in language and behavior
Ann used new and different language when angry.
Grades dropping (Although she said she was in her room doing homework, she had missing assignments.)
Reacting differently to hugs from family (Ann had loved snuggling with mom, but stopped letting family touch her.)
Cell phone bills with abnormally large amounts of texts
Cell numbers stored in the smart phone, iPad or iPod list that do not have contacts associated with them
When Ann’s mother tried to read Ann’s messages, they were often blank or erased. For example, the phone memory would list a number that had sent Ann a text. When you opened the number on the text list it was blank. The text was edited or erased from the phone.
Equipment and App information
Anything that hooks to the Internet can be turned into a portal for sexting, or a place for your child to become addicted to sex or a victim of a perpetrator. The list includes:
Notepads without phone connections can use the same third party Apps that smart phones use to make calls and text.
What is a third party App?
You and the cell phone company are the first and second parties. Third party apps are owned by another party and sold online to consumers. For example, you go to the App Store on your smart phone and you can search third party applications to count calories or look up scriptures. Any person, or corporation that makes an application for use on iPad, iPod, Notebooks or any other device that hooks up to the Internet can include an online chat program. Online chat programs are hidden in the menu in some third party Apps. Perpetrators and teens hide texting in third party Apps.
Third Party Apps used for role-playing, sexting, exchanging videos and photos
There are too many to list them all.
Kik: Text, talk and photos.
Pinger: This app allows you to turn a school computer into a tool for texting. It allows voice calls and more. It allows people to have an anonymous phone number to call from.
Snapchat: Photos are supposed to be untraceable and erased instantly. Buried in the website is information on how to save photos. That means photos of children can be saved.
How does this lead to sexual abuse?
Perpetrators of child sex abuse fish for children. Pictures on programs like Facebook are public. Detailed pictures may show a soccer team jersey that gives away a city and state. All a perpetrator has to do to find your child is to find his team's schedule online.
The text messages can be a way to get pictures of your child or a way to groom your child. Grooming is a term used to explain how a perpetrator gets familiar with a child and offers the child something he wants to lure him into abuse.
Children meeting someone they met online in person
As an advocate I sat with more than one set of parents whose children had met someone online and then later in a hotel.
Ann’s mother tried many ways to protect Ann. She felt that having the phone turned in at night did not work. Ann was still able to get on her iPod, or anything else she found with an Internet connection.
Here are some of the things Ann’s mother tried
Taking away her cell phone.
Keystroke programs that monitor computer histories.
Keeping electronic items password protected or locked up.
Ann cannot go anywhere alone. An older sibling or parent is always within an arm’s length of Ann monitoring her behavior.
Shannon Symonds, Author of Safe House due to be released July 2017 by Cedar Fort, has 15 years experience working as an Advocate for victims of domestic and sexual violence while raising 6 children in Seaside Oregon. She loves to write, run and Laugh