I’m standing in the grocery store checkout line, looking at magazines covered with picture-perfect women.
I need to exercise more. Do not pick-up that candy bar. NO!! I’m such a hypocrite. I need to practice what I preach to my daughter — these photos are altered and aren’t real-life. Get a grip.
As the superficial, yet real struggle raced through my mind, I heard my phone.
I reached in my purse and was shocked to see the text I received:
“For live nudity available right now, click here.”
I’ve had my same mobile number for over 10 years and have never received an inappropriate text, until a couple of weeks ago. My mind immediately raced to the last known place where I provided my mobile number. Maybe a rewards program? A retailer’s coupon feed?
I was worried my daughter had received the text on her phone at school. So, later that day, I posted to social media to see if anyone else had received a similar text.
The response shocked me. Many people (including kids) who were AT&T customers had received the same live nudity text within a 48-hour period.
I contacted AT&T. They said spam is a multi-carrier problem and provided me information on how to block subsequent texts and open an investigation.
Then, I was contacted by a local news reporter. You can see the story here:
A week after the story aired, I was notified by others (who had different carriers) of similar pornographic texts. So, it’s definitely not isolated to AT&T.
Regardless of the specific carrier, I think this presents a great opportunity to talk with parents, school officials and kids about how to handle inappropriate pictures and messages on any electronic device. We can join together, support each other and encourage open communication about pornography in general.
Here’s what parents need to know about porn: It’s addictive. It leads to early sexual activity. It is degrading. It’s the new drug we’re fighting. It is a money-making industry which depends on getting our kids addicted early. Many children, even as young as kindergarten, are being exposed to pornography due to the access to smartphones and tablets. It’s not just for boys. Girls are seeing it as a representation on how their bodies should look, so it becomes a body-image issue.
Shortly after the news story aired, I was contacted by Claudine Gallacher, Deputy Director of Porn Proof Kids. She saw the story and wanted to talk more about the actual texts. She was the writing coach and researcher for a book called Good Pictures, Bad Pictures (by Kristen A. Jenson and Gail A. Poyner) which uses a scientific approach to teaching children about pornography. One thing she taught me, “We need kids to identify what pornography is and learn to name it. By thinking (or saying out loud) the words ‘that’s pornography’ when we see a pornographic image, we move those pictures from the feeling part of the brain to the thinking part of the brain.” I LOVE that, and I highly recommend their book.
Texts are extremely dangerous because there is no way to block that first initial text. They are not like Internet pop-ups or pornographic emails which can be blocked through parental controls — we’ve dealt with this type of porn forever. Pornographic texts are new, they come directly to your phone number and there is no parental control or other way to block that first initial text. Kids can see it. Only subsequent texts from that number can be blocked, after the original one has already been seen. This is what I tell my children to do if they receive a pornographic text (and what I teach in MomTalk*):
1- Turn off your phone immediately.
2- Do not ever show another child. (Most school districts have major consequences if they do.)
3- Report the text to me immediately so I can block future texts and report to our carrier.
I don’t think the solution is to shelter our kids and say no to all technology. I think we can slowly expose our kids to technology and social media, then walk hand-in-hand and learn together, continually talking.
I also used these texts as an opportunity to discuss the issue with my school principal and superintendent. I received quick, informative responses; our district has actually been working on training for staff and students. Here were my questions (and feel free to use with your own school districts):
1- Do we have a district policy to govern pornographic pictures being shown on school property?
2- How do we communicate that policy to parents and kids? (Most parents I’ve talked to do not know they’re supposed to report any pornographic issues to school officials.)
3- What are the consequences for kids if they show pornographic pictures on school property? And, is that clearly communicated to parents and kids in our schools?
And, on an even broader scope:
How is the school district ensuring that classrooms are technologically safe for children? How are teachers trained to handle surprises when internet filters fail?
Do we understand the personal responsibility kids have for their own electronic devices? They are held responsible for the things they show to other kids.
We can take these bad texts, turn them around and use them for good. Unite parents and school officials so we can teach our kids valuable life lessons. I believe this is a teachable moment for all of us.