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By now most of us have caught wind of the legal cases surrounding teen “sexting.” In New Jersey a 14-year old girl is facing sex offender charges and a possible 17 years in jail for posting nude pictures of herself on MySpace (Sexting in NJ). In Pennsylvania felony charges are pending against 3 teens who sent “racy” images of themselves via cell phones (Sexting in PA). Similar sexting cases have recently surfaced in Connecticut, North Dakota, Ohio, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. All these cases have motivated lawmakers to use legal charges to discourage teens from sending and receiving “racy” photos.
These cases raise interesting questions about teenage psychological development and teen sexuality, the definition of pornography, and parental responsibilities. First of all, I believe the teens involved in these cases are stupid and naive. They are exploiting themselves with little understanding of the consequences. This is not “child porn” and they are not “accomplices to child porn.” Developmentally, a teen doesn’t view such behaviors the same way that adults do. They post pictures of themselves in their bras and underwear because they don’t think things through or think about the repercussions of their behaviors. It’s impulsive and stupid. Social networking sites and cell phones are new technologies that teens have embraced very quickly, without understanding the potential long-term consequences of these technologies. These teens are innundated with nonstop sexual messages and images. They hear about sex (turn on your radio and listen to any song on the major radio networks), read about sex (pick up any teen magazine and it will tell you how to have great sex and what makes guys hot), watch sex (check out the tv programming they watch today), and talk about sex (listen in on any teen conversation and you’ll get the picture). What is missing from all of this, is good, solid information about sex. Tighter school budgets means less adequate health and sex education classes in middle and high schools across the country. And many parents aren’t talking to their kids about sex. As a result, these teens don’t understand sexuality, see it all around them, and impulsively join in the fun. Why not?
I don’t think that slapping legal charges on a bunch of kids, labeling them as sex offenders, and sending them to jail will help teach kids how serious these things are. Of course they need to learn that there are serious consequences -but how? I think what has to happen is parents need a huge wake up call. They need to be more involved with their kids, talk to them about sex, sexting, social networking sites, use of the Internet, and help them understand the potential long-term consequences of these behaviors.
One more thing before I get off my soapbox – does anyone notice that it’s the girls who are mostly in trouble here? I haven’t seen any sexting cases in which boys send around photos of themselves in their tighty-whiteys. The images are only of girls – and the photos resemble many ads that appear in various women’s magazines today. There is a much bigger problem going on today that involves female sexuality. Girls desperately need to learn about sexuality and understand the importance of self-respect and self-confidence. I’ve seen too many girls give up their bodies in an attempt to find love. The media reinforces that girls need to give up their bodies and their sex in order to get boys to fall in love with them. Sexting and hooking up don’t lead to love. In fact, these things often do just the opposite. It’s time to start talking about this.