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Textual Harassment: “Sexting” and Teen Sexuality

Textual Harassment: “Sexting” and Teen Sexuality

When I was a preadolescent boy, I had a “relationship” with a neighborhood girl of the same age. We would ride bikes together, play Clue, talk about UFOs, build elaborate houses out of blocks, argue passionately about forgettable things, and also, from time to time, steal away to a dark corner and “play doctor.” While my memories of these risque games may be a bit degraded over time, I do remember them always being respectful and mutually agreeable. These were our little secret times alone, when we pretended to be husband and wife and explored our bodies, our desires, and our emerging notions of intimacy–and no one knew about it. However, I think if we had had access to a digital camera or a cell phone with photo capabilities, we, as naive children, would have likely snapped a few pictures for posterity.

At risk of offending nearly everyone who remains squeamish about the mixing of childhood and sexuality, I am dredging up this bit of personal history to provide commentary on the latest controversial flame surrounding the practice of “Sexting.” For the uninitiated, “sexting” is the act of sending, receiving, or forwarding naked, or scantily clad, photos of yourself or others through your cell phone. This “sexting” craze has apparently gained tremendous popularity among teens who, while hormone-addled and working through their various identities, like to look at naked pictures of themselves and others. Budding technology + budding adolescent sexuality = rampant moral firestorm. I think we all should have seen this one coming.

Obviously, the “sexting” trend, enabling bazillions of pictures of naked teenagers to orbit haphazardly around the telecommunications sphere, has been cause for a great deal of concern for parents, teachers, school administrators, legislators, and yes, even teenagers themselves. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy recently published a study suggesting one in five teens had sent or posted images of themselves in various stages of undress. The proposed solution to the problem has ranged from confiscating mobile phones and making them forbidden on school grounds (thus driving the issue entirely underground in revival of that flawed “don’t ask, don’t tell” logic) to prosecuting offending teens on child pornography charges, forever marking temporarily dumb and hormonal teenagers as sex offenders.

Many child development experts, as well as child psychologists, would argue that both preadolescents and teenagers engaging in this behavior are emotionally and mentally unable to thoroughly grasp the consequences of their actions. But even if they were, by electing to criminalize “sexting” among teenagers as a form of child pornography, we are overlooking the fact that most of these teens are not sexual predators and likely have grand plans of producing or distributing child pornography. The laws currently on the books pertaining to child pornography endeavor to protect children from the dangers of sexual exploitation. These same laws should not be modified to prosecute and unfairly stigmatize imprudent and unthinking children as sex offenders themselves. Sure, in cases involving threats and harassment, “sexting” should be prosecuted, but really this should be the exception to the rule.

The larger issue here is not the existence of naked pictures or the technology that enables these images to leapfrog from mobile to mobile with the press of a button. The issue is the problematic oil and water muddle that is sexuality and children. As parents, and adults, we are just about as mystified and ham-fisted in dealing with child sexuality as our children are. What results is discomfort, awkwardness, and bewilderment that is not only passed on to our children, but something that is internalized and that effectively casts them astray in a sea of uncharted human sexuality.

In the near future, I plan on delving into the hornet’s nest issue of child sexuality and how we could better prepare our children to make the right choices (I am not only talking about teen pregnancy and abstinence here) and take ownership of their own sexual identity. Until then, I would love to hear from parents, adults, and even teen readers of this blog (presuming they exist) about this issue of “sexting” and what is happening with the contemporary dialog between parents and children about sexuality. Have we progressed into a realm of a natural and conscientious mutual understanding, or are we still treading the same old dark waters of ignorance and personal embarrassment?

Read more: Children, Love, Parenting at the Crossroads, Sex, Teens, , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

51 comments

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3:14PM PDT on Jun 3, 2011

If you don't want everyone to see it, then don't put it out there.

2:18AM PDT on Aug 17, 2010

I've heard of sexting for a long time. I don't know why the teenagers do that?

1:36PM PST on Nov 21, 2009

sexting is simply lame, but if you think about it, then nobody is getting knocked up or an STD!

1:53PM PDT on Oct 2, 2009

I'm a 14 year old girl in 9th grade and I know of many people who have "sexted". It actually got so bad, the councelors at our school have gone around to each class and talked about the dangers of "sexting." One of my good friends, has sent pictures to guys when they asked for them and she regrets it now because people spread rumors all the time about her and call her hurtful names. There is also a guy I have really liked (pretty much obsessed over) for the past year and she said he asked her for pictures every night for 8 days in a row and she wouldn't send them to him. I really don't see the point, I mean, I guess I do because guys want to see naked girls all the time, but I don't know why. Like, what's the big deal with it, "Wow! A naked girl! That's amazing!!" Yeah, as amazing as that is... I don't know, I just don't get why it's such a big deal.

11:41PM PDT on Jun 14, 2009

thanks...
Kabin
Konteyner

4:21PM PDT on Mar 25, 2009

I am surprised by this blog. I am a 16 year old teenager and I had not heard of this "sexting" I believe that it would be unjust if they would convict teens for this kind of thing because all pre-teens and teens do stupid things in consequence of their hormones acting up, and later find out that what they did is wrong and they learn to correct themselves.

8:37AM PDT on Mar 22, 2009

Great points, all. While these children should not be criminally prosecuted, the consequences for their futures might be just as bad: potential employers, college admissions agents, military recruiters, etc, finding these things on the Internet could ruin the child's chances for pursuit of the future they choose. A high price to pay for being young and stupid - a condition we have all experienced, just in the past it wasn't broadcast all over the Internet!

8:43PM PDT on Mar 18, 2009

Omar, I think every bit helps . Because even when you do teach your kids the best you can, we still have no control over there friends and there families. I feel things like that should have been put in place before just throwing it out to the public and have so many fall pray to the over exposure, harassment and abuse that can follow. We cant just keep our kids locked up for ever, we should be able to freely enjoy a game or two on the computer with out worries of private chat rooms that claim they are PG site and have 40 year old men talking to are kids. I have seen so many ways that kids can get around parental controls and eventually they become big enough they are left by there self. That kind of stuff should not even have accesses available unless you show proof of age. You can accesses all this stuff on phones, computers and it doesn't even have to be your phone or computer maybe your neighbor. These people that put this stuff out there act like they want everyone to be addicted to the stuff, they dont care, its your money and they will take it. It just makes me mad and it seems like there is no end, where does it stop,when does it.

6:41PM PDT on Mar 18, 2009

This is a very interesting and pressing discussion. I am concerned about my kids doing something for the sake of fun, peer pressure and getting scared for their lives.
Doing research for my company, to understand the extent of the problem, I am surprised how many new article published I was able to find just in the last 2 months.

I am building a service for mobile phones, which helps parents to connect and protect their kids with mobile phones. In today's life on the Go! ability to monitor where your kids are and what they are doing with their phones, what they are posting on Myspace or SMS. Parents and do it from a simple web page without and software or wires and need to connect the phone to the computer.

Would like to hear what parents think about the value of such a service.

2:52PM PDT on Mar 18, 2009

The materialistically-driven societal downgrading of the family unit is to blame. Get to the core of the problem and not be distracted and choose to act upon it Allopathically for goodness sake ~

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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