The Y Files: Smart teens don't 'sext' | March 20, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - March 20, 2009

The Y Files: Smart teens don't 'sext'

by Maria Shen

Friends' parents will sometimes ask the most awkward questions. I was in the car with a friend's mom when ...

"Have you girls heard of 'sexting'?" the mom asked, glancing back at us from the driver's seat.


"No, 'sexting.' You know, sending inappropriate things over text messaging. I just read an article about it today. I can't believe the things that are going on these days."

I thought that perhaps it'd be a good topic for this column: the practice of sending sexual texts and pictures via the cell phone. It is yet another "terrifying teen practice" on the rise. The media had not-so-cleverly called it "sexting." Every parenting blog and family-friendly news site has something on its growing prevalence. Just last year, several teens were arrested for the possession of underage porn because explicit texts were found on their phones.

But this whole thing wasn't so scary or shocking to me. What was scary was the "related article" link I found on the sidebar of With big, blazing letters, the article read: PARENTAL CONTROLS FOR CELL PHONES. The accompanying picture drove the message home: a threateningly neat, manicured hand poised on a cell phone; a mother in dark sunglasses checks on her daughter's whereabouts via new software.

The article was about WebSafety, software that sends "instant notifications of any threats, dangers or immoral behavior involving your child." According to, the service they offer is "all-in-one" parental control - that is, control of the Internet and cell phone, the two things that teens in this modern era can't be without.

The GPS allows parents to track the whereabouts of their children at all times. If a car goes past a certain speed, then - ding! - the parents get another notification. According to, parents can even impose "dead zones" where text messaging is not allowed at all.

WebSafety gives parents alarming control. Parents get notifications if certain words come up in a text message. Thus, messages like, "Omg, the physics test makes me want to kill myself," may be forwarded to parents as a suicide threat.

I'd never seen anything that came close to WebSafety's potential to make teens hate their parents. Perhaps on some level, the activities of teenagers warrant such an abominable program to exist and thrive. But whatever happened to mutual trust?

Maybe statistics like these are scaring parents:

"According to recent surveys," writes journalist Lee Ferran, "nearly half of teens say they text while driving, and 20 percent have shared sexually explicit or nude photos of themselves. It's all part of a trend called 'sexting.'"

But instead of using software that transforms the user into the parent-from-hell, parents could consider talking to their teens about these issues. Because while I do know people who text inappropriate things to their boyfriends/girlfriends, most people know that sending out a picture means never being able to get it back. A picture on a cell phone can be easily uploaded to the Internet. With all the horror stories that are passed around about employers and colleges looking at Facebook pages, fewer and fewer people are posting risky things.

The media is brimming with stories about "out of control teenagers!" What about power-tripping, out-of-control parents? Teenagers are not the only ones taking advantage of and exploiting technology. Parents are doing the same thing, monitoring their children like they are little science experiments instead of maturing individuals.

My mom has never given me a curfew or even grounded me. So far, I haven't run wild with the freedom I've been given. If anything, I cherish it all the more, hating to break her trust. Similarly, I know people my age who have self-imposed rules just because they don't want to earn their parents' mistrust. I have a friend who always goes home at 11 p.m. - not because it's a curfew, but because she knows her parents get worried when she's out any later than that.

I have to say, I'm very offended by software like WebSafety. I like to think of myself as a capable, intelligent teenager who can take care of herself - without busybody satellites buzzing behind me, scrutinizing everything I do.

Maria Shen, reporting on Generation Y, is a senior at Monte Vista High School. She founded Contra Costa County's Young Bohemians creative writing club and is editor of Voicebox, a literary magazine. E-mail her at