Forget trying to censor teen "sexting"

Apple's text-message monitoring program won't solve any parental woes


Tracy Clark-Flory
October 15, 2010 1:01AM (UTC)

The Wall Street Journal's numbers-heavy piece today on "the texting revolution" beautifully underscores the absurdity of Apple's newly-approved patent for what is being widely referred to as "anti-sexting" software. "The average 13- to 17-year-old sends and receives 3,339 texts a month -- more than 100 per day," according to the article. Parents can learn two things from this: 1.) For the love of your checkbook, go for the plan with unlimited texts, and 2.) All attempts at censoring kids' fast-finger-talking are futile.

The patent is more generally for software that filters "inappropriate" content, and this includes a "parental control application" that "evaluates whether or not the communication contains approved text based on, for example, objective ratings criteria or a user's age or grade level, and, if unauthorized, prevents such text from being included in the text-based communication." The program can then tattle on the teen whenever it comes across "unauthorized" content. It sounds a whole lot like Web monitoring software that supposedly keeps kids from finding porn or talking to pervy strangers online.

Advertisement:

Haven't we learned by now that the problem with the "not in my house" mentality is that they'll just go do it in someone else's house (or backseat)? Where there's a will, there's a way -- and motivation isn't something teenagers are generally lacking when it comes to sex. They have navigated around parental Web-browsing blocks, and they will do the same with this "anti-sexting" software (that is, if Apple ever pushes it beyond the patent). That's not to mention that the program addresses text, not photos, which are a whole lot more likely to get them in trouble. I'm afraid I have to deliver a difficult truth here: No software program will make teenage sexuality disappear.

Of course, this patent isn't just about sex-fearing parents. Some will want to eliminate any swear words or drug references -- which is cute. Good luck trying to keep up with ever-mutating teenage slang; they will find a way to say naughty things, even it means subversively co-opting wholesome phrases. If anyone can turn something as benign-sounding as "I'm going to church to pray" into secret code for nefarious behavior, it's teenagers.

As the Journal article makes clear, texting is now a fundamental channel of communication for teenagers (and, increasingly, for adults, too). Still, I can't help but think that parents' best bet in trying to protect their kids will be as it has always been: to communicate with them -- preferably face-to-face.


Tracy Clark-Flory

MORE FROM Tracy Clark-FloryFOLLOW TracyClarkFloryLIKE Tracy Clark-Flory

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Apple Broadsheet Love And Sex Parenting Sexting Teenagers




Fearless journalism
in your inbox every day

Sign up for our free newsletter

• • •