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April 9, 2009

The newest issue: Sexting – on the cell phone and on Myspace

With every new kind of technology, there is a new way to use it inappropriately. While some may say there is no stopping enterprising young people, and others may say adolescence is about experimenting and making bad choices, it seems to me that youths are making worse decisions than they used to. Yes, I understand that I risk sounding like my parents when I complain about today’s young people, but when I take a look at what they are doing these days, I can’t help but shake my head and feel sorry for them.

The newest issue: sexting. Gone are the days of passing notes in class; that’s archaic by the standards of today’s young adults. Today’s flirtations take place via cell phone photos with racy photo attachments. That’s right, “teen dating” now means taking naked photos and sending them boyfriends/girlfriends, prospective boyfriends/girlfriends, hookup buddies, and whatever else (whomever else?) the kids are doing these days.

In addition to cell phone messages, youngsters are also posting nude/nearly nude photos of themselves on Myspace. In New Jersey, a 14-year-old girl was arrested for posting nude photos of herself on Myspace, under the laws dealing with child pornography. If convicted, she would have to register as a sex offender.

There has been a lot of online chatter about this entire issue lately, particularly around the issue of the arrest and sex offender registry. Some people say that these young people are not capable of fully understanding the consequences of their actions; they are simply “experimenting” with relationships and trying to find themselves. Other people question the legality, as not every state has a clear law against posting your OWN photos, even if you are a minor. As a Canadian, I can’t speak to the legalities in the US, so I will speak to the first issue instead: experimenting?

I find it extremely hard to believe that any teenager would post nude photos of themselves and be completely unaware of what may happen. Yes, adolescence is normally a time to make some bad decisions and display some iffy judgement, but to assume that it is acceptable to be sexting people at such a young age is laughable. I’m sick and tired of teenagers getting this free ride, where they don’t have to be held accountable for anything they do, to others or to themselves. If they are “mature enough” to have their own cell phone, they ought to be held responsible for what they do with it.

I feel sad for the youths of today, who seem to feel the only way to be validated is to be naked on someone’s cell phone. I feel sad for the adult decisions they are making too young; decisions they will never be able to take back. Once those photos are out of their possession, who knows where they could end up? In the hands of a child rapist? It’s possible. They are setting themselves up for a dangerous situation in the real world, far beyond the high school bubble they are used to.

The worst part, because they’re dealing with technology, is that once those photos are out there, they’re out there forever. They won’t be able to take them back, or pretend they don’t exist. I just hope that one day, these young men and women realize they are valid for lots of other reasons, and that it isn’t necessary to objectify yourself simply to be popular.

As always, I’d like to ask: Where are the parents? Do they simply assume their children are using their phones appropriately? Do they care? Do they assume that their children know better, or have better self esteem, or don’t get caught up in the early sexualization that affects everyone else around them?

Parents need to sit down with these teens, especially if the parents are the ones paying for the cell phones. They need to talk with their teens about being sexually active, as I have a funny feeling sexting is simply the beginning, rather than the end. They need to talk to them about STDs, sexual assault, and making choices. Particularly for the girls, they need to talk about getting into dangerous situations, like meeting someone from Myspace who has seen their inappropriate photos.

In the end, it will be up to the teenagers to do whatever they’re going to do; there is no way to change their minds. However, if this trend continues the way it has been (and I see no reason to think otherwise) there are going to be a lot of damaged young people growing into damaged adults – physically, mentally, emotionally and sexually. Children and youths are becoming sexualized and sexually active at increasingly younger ages, and all we can do is provide them with the information to make good decisions; it’s up to them if they use it.

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