Improper Texts: Guard Against the Harm They Cause

Because cell phone use and texting are preferred methods of communication among young people today, they need to understand the hurt that they can cause themselves and others by sending or receiving inappropriate messages. This is especially true when messages include sexually explicit images.

How to Handle an Inappropriate Text

Inappropriate text messages, including sexually suggestive communication, insensitive remarks, or bullying, should be immediately addressed. Depending on the situation, you may best handle inappropriate teen-to-teen texting by confronting the offending individual and explaining the harmful nature of the text. If a youth worker generates an inappropriate text, investigate immediately. An accused worker also may need to be removed from his or her position—temporarily or permanently.

Once texting turns into “sexting,” the stakes get much higher. Legislation addressing sexting varies from state to state, so ministries should consult a local attorney to determine the law in their jurisdiction. Teens need to understand that sexting is not only emotionally damaging, but also that under some state laws, young people could be charged with a sex crime for transmitting sexually suggestive photos.

In general:

  • Document what happened and inform your supervisor.
  • Ensure that you keep and not delete the text.
  • Consult an attorney to determine whether there is a legal duty to report the incident to authorities.
  • Inform the church insurance agent about the situation.
  • Meet with the teen and the teen’s parents.

Protect Yourself and Your Ministry

Before texting or emailing students, ask parents to give you written permission to communicate electronically with their children, and teach ministry staff and volunteers what is illegal in your state when it comes to texting. Encourage youth workers to send most texts or emails in bulk to the whole youth group, rather than to individuals. This helps eliminate problems associated with one-on-one electronic communication.

Finally, develop a policy that states your ministry’s position on using electronic forms of communication within your youth ministry, including when young people can and cannot use their cell phones. Generally, such policies work best when they do not allow cell phone use in any form during official church youth functions. This not only helps avoid distractions, but also protects the church from a charge of negligent supervision, should a youth send an inappropriate or even illegal text message during the meeting.