Youth Culture Window
The latest use of cell phones by their teenage owners just might eclipse those monthly overage fees in the minds of parents. It’s called “sexting,” and the sexy text messages teens are sending to each other can have unintended consequences.
16 year old Rochellie has no problem telling it like it is. “Teenagers are having sex by the phone, sending flirty messages, meeting up to have sex.” This reality seems fine to another 16 year old, Mackenzie, who says, “It's your phone, it's your own private business. So if you want to do that stuff go ahead.” These girls are referring to sexting. Sexting ranges from sending flirtatious messages to describing a sex act, or even sharing a racy pic.
Texting has been a preferred system of communication between teens for a while, largely because of the stealth it offers them when parents are around. The “grammar” that’s used in a typical text message is a cross between “hooked on phonics” and “I’m too lazy to type out the whole word.” This new hybrid language has left many parents so puzzled by its meaning, that the Center for Parent Youth Understanding was prompted to publish a great dictionary of text acronyms teens regularly use today. Many are understandable by just reading the letters out loud. “IMEZRU” simply means what it sounds: “I’m easy, are you?”
The topic of teens and sex has always raised more questions than answers; this one’s no exception. Are these sexting messages truly harmless? Can they be kept private? What emotional effect do they have on teens? Do the “virtual” messages lead to “actual” sex? What can be done to prevent adults like American Idol hopeful Colin Leahy from sexting teens? Surely teens use their cell phones for more than booty calls, right?
Typical Teen Cell Phone Use
Gen Y has always had a fascination with, and a dependency upon, technology. A national study by OTX and eCRUSH found that 51% of teens said they “absolutely could not live without” their cell phones. That sounds pretty dire.
So, what makes cell phones so important to this generation?
Convenience and security, according to teens. The top two reasons were the ability to “communicate from anywhere” and having the assurance of “being able to reach family.” Nobody wants to be denied those two practicalities. But it may surprise you to discover that a majority of teens use their cell phones as glorified typewriters. When asked what cell phone feature they used most…
Favorite cell phone features:
- text messaging (72%)
Other favorites included:
- taking digital pictures (63%)
- playing games (56%)
- downloading music (36)
- downloading videos (22%)
Should We Just Hang Up?
45% of 12-17 year olds, about 11 million teens, own cell phones. According to Pew Internet research, a third of those teens use their phones to text others. That’s a frenzy of fast flying thumbs! When it comes to text messaging, is there anything we can harness for the good, or should we just confiscate our students’ cell phones at the door? (For some great thoughts about that line of thinking, check out Jonathan’s Blog on the subject and the plethora of comments/responses he received.) Since the students we minister to will never be without the “anywhere, anytime” communication cell phones offer, here are some ways we can roll with the punches when it comes to helping teens make responsible decisions about their cell phone use.
- Understand the importance teens place on their cell phones. If you have any level of doubt about the proliferation of cell phone use amongst teens, perform this simple experiment. Send 10 kids a short text message from your cell phone asking them a question about the upcoming weekend. Send the same kids the same message via email, and see which message they respond to (and how quickly). If you even get responses from the emails, they will probably be later than the text message replies. Email just can’t compare to the “instant messaging” of the cell phone, plus, only 14% of teens regularly use email today.
- Make sure parents stay aware of how their kids are using their phones. Sure, they pay the bill, which might leave them a little jaded each month, but they probably don’t know that kids really do lean on their cell phones for ease of communication and security of family contact. Couple that with the confusion over what all those text messages actually mean, and who they are sending them to, and it’s the parents who are left saying, “idk.”
- Offer a genuine relationship to teens. Texting might be a cool way of communication, but it doesn’t beat face to face relationships. Make use of texting to communicate with kids, but don’t let it replace face to face contact. Remember the value that kids place on “hanging out” with family and friends. Spending time with family is what teens desire to do the most, and 31% of teens report talking to their friends “in person” each day, which is their second most favorite way to spend time. If you want some excellent coaching on the importance of relationships and how to build them, check out the latest seminar from TheSource4YM.com called Connect. This seminar is based on Jonathan’s new book he’s writing about developing one-on-one relationships in a world of isolation.
- Create fun and healthy ways for teens to use their cell phones. Most teens catch a lot of flack over their cell phone use at home, at school, and at youth group. Provide a way to use cell phones for fun. TheSource4YM.com provides some fun events, games and sermon ideas that let teens use their phones in exciting, but safe, ways.
Keep talking with your students about the call Jesus has placed on every part of their lives, including their cell phone use. And as often as possible, have that conversation face to face.
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. David provides free
resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org
David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.
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