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Wireless Industry: Continuing to Educate About “Sexting” and “Cyberbullying”

For kids and teens today, there are many benefits to using mobile technology, and it’s “cool” to use wireless tools at home, work, school and in our public institutions.

According to a 2010 Pew Internet & American Life study, mobile devices are the favored communication hub for the majority of American teens. The study indicates that 75% of children ages 12-17 now have a cell phone. And, half of teens send more than 3,000 texts each month…which is probably not a surprise to many parents.

As with any innovative technology, the benefits can come with risks where children and teens may use wireless technology in an irresponsible or inappropriate manner, such as “sexting” or “cyberbullying.” Sexting is the sending or receipt of explicit or implicit sexual messages or images electronically, primarily using mobile devices.  In some case, a sext message can be used to cyberbully the individual who sent or received the message.  Cyberbullying, which may be against the law, is defined as annoying, threatening, harassing, humiliating or embarrassing messages sent to victims by kids or teens using a text, e-mail, instant message, blog, social network or the Internet in general.

A 2009 survey from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that 4% of teens ages 12-17 who own cell phones say they have sent sexually suggestive, nude, or nearly nude images or videos of themselves to someone else via text messaging, while 15% say they have received such images of someone they know via text message. In addition, the 2010 Pew study found 54% of text-using teens have received spam or other unwanted texts and 26% have been bullied or harassed through text messages and phone calls.

Interestingly, the 2010 Pew survey found that the type of wireless plan (unlimited v. “metered”) a child used was indicative of their use or misuse of their phone. For example, when parent’s limit their child’s text messaging capabilities, children reported lower levels of various texting behaviors among teens such as “sexting” and are less likely to report being passengers in cars where the driver texted behind the wheel or used the phone in a dangerous manner while driving.

It is for these reasons why CTIA and the wireless industry is committed to keeping kids safe in a mobile environment by providing parents the tools and resources they need to help promote responsible wireless use.  One of these tools is “Be Smart. Be Fair, Be Safe: Wireless Responsible Use,” a campaign launched in March 2010 by CTIA and The Wireless Foundation to help parents, educators and policymakers learn about and teach kids responsible mobile behavior, driving and eco-friendly initiatives.

In addition, CTIA has developed six simple SAFETY Tips for parents to start the discussion with their kids about their behavior in a mobile environment.  The SAFETY Tips are just one of the many tools the wireless industry provides for parents to help educate and encourage their kids in responsible and safe use of cell phones.

In addition to state Attorneys General and policymakers, the U.S. Congress is taking action to help curb this inappropriate conduct.  The Adolescent Web Awareness Requires Education Act (AWARE Act) –H.R. 3630; S.1047 – companion legislation introduced last year by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Sen. Robert Menendez, aims to educate minors about the dangers of sexting. We support these efforts and continue to believe that education is a key component to responsible wireless use.

We can help limit the inappropriate use of wireless devices by ensuring parents are aware of the tools and services available to teach their children responsible wireless use.

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