For Jesse Logan, an 18-year-old Ohio girl, sending cell phone pictures to her boyfriend was a natural part of their relationship. They were young and in love, and she trusted him with sexually provocative photos of herself. After Jesse and her boyfriend broke up, as teenagers do, he shared the pictures with classmates, who began harassing Jesse, calling her names and physically bullying her. Eventually, the abuse became too much. In August 2008, Jesse hanged herself.
Jesse's story is tragic, but more common than you might think. Teenagers are exchanging sexually explicit photos with increasing frequency, not only by email and social networking sites, but by phone. The practice is called "sexting," a portmanteau of "sex" and "texting." According to Cox Communications, nearly 20 percent of teens have sent, received, or forwarded a sexually explicit text or picture message, sometimes with dire consequences. Why is this happening? It starts with the technology.
The rise of do-it-all smart phones
Since the early days of the Internet, people have been able to take digital photos and to send and receive them across the network, but high cost, low quality, and limited bandwidth made such practices expensive and difficult. In recent years, an increase in computing power and a decrease in cost has changed that. Now, cheaply available technology lets users take high-fidelity snapshots and videos, and there's enough bandwidth to transmit them quickly over a wireless connection - with a device that fits in the palm of your hand.
Today's cell phones do it all: Web browsing, email, photo, and video. The advent of so-called "smart" phones, typified by the hugely popular Apple iPhone, has concentrated an astonishing amount of technology into small, handheld devices. Smart phones integrate all aspects of a teenager's social life, such as friends' phone numbers, social calendars, and even Facebook pages. It's not a stretch to suggest that such gadgets are now an integral part of many kids' daily lives.
For parents of teenagers, these phones have undeniable benefits. It's easier than ever before to stay in touch, whether by phone, email, or text message. Plus, teens who find themselves in uncomfortable situations have more options to call their parents for help. But there's a dark side, too. Teenagers often have difficulty with impulse control and delaying gratification; the power and simplicity of today's phones means that it's easier than ever to use technology unwisely, without considering the consequences.