Monday, March 28, 2011

High-Tech Flirting Turns Explicit, Altering Young Lives

Yesterday the New York Times published an article on the subject of 'Sexting and Consequences' as part of their ongoing Poisoned Web series discussing online bullying. A Girl's Nude Photo, and Altered Lives explores the consequences of an eight grade girl texting a nude photo of herself to a male classmate. He subsequently sent it to two female friends, who both texted the photo to everyone on their contacts lists. The police arrested the three teenagers on charges of felony child pornography; they were ultimately convicted of gross misdemeanor of telephone harassment. The sentence did not require jail time but asked each of them to prepare "public service materials about the hazards of sexting, attend a session with Margarite (the subject of the nude photo) to talk about what happened and otherwise have no contact with her." After a year of harassment, Margarite eventually transferred to another school.

The article offers some insightful remarks on adolescents, technology and sexuality (emphasis mine): 
Having a naked picture of your significant other on your cellphone is an advertisement that you’re sexually active to a degree that gives you status,” said Rick Peters, a senior deputy prosecuting attorney for Thurston County, which includes Lacey. “It’s an electronic hickey."

 But a double standard holds. While a boy caught sending a picture of himself may be regarded as a fool or even a boastful stud, girls, regardless of their bravado, are castigated as sluts. Photos of girls tend to go viral more often, because boys and girls will circulate girls’ photos in part to shame them, explained Danah Boyd, a senior social media researcher at Microsoft and a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. In contrast, when a boy sends a revealing photo of himself to a girl, Dr. Boyd noted, she usually does not circulate it. And, Dr. Boyd added, boys do not tend to circulate photos of other boys: “A straight-identified boy will never admit to having naked photos of a boy on his phone." 
There are over 350 comments in response to the article, the very first of which I find pretty rational. Bill Randle says:
Lots of inappropriate and unethical behavior ensued in this case that should rightly be addressed by parents and educators and communities, but the fact that law enforcement and our criminal justice system took over perfectly exemplifies the extent to which our puritanical, fear-based, hysterical culture in America has turned into a police state.
Of course anything having to do with naked bodies -- especially those of pubescent children -- sends those who seek to control every aspect of human behavior into a tizzy. They can't stand the notion that millions -- yes millions -- of young people are exploring their sexuality outside the control of adults -- right now!
Rather than legislate and criminalize all inappropriate or emotionally harmful behavior and subsequently ruin the lives of the children involved by branding them criminals, how about we make an attempt to rationally and calmly work through these issues -- adults and children -- and find common ground as we attempt to educate kids on appropriate behavior.
 The NYT also
interviewed teenagers individually and in two focus groups. The first, in Manhattan, was organized by the Anti-Defamation League, which offers cyberbullying prevention programs. The second, with students from Lower Merion, a Philadelphia suburb, was coordinated by Stephanie Newberg, a therapist who works with adolescents, and Paula Singer, a community organizer.
  • Kathy, 17, Queens: There’s a positive side to sexting. You can’t get pregnant from it, and you can’t transmit STDs. It’s a kind of safe sex.
  • Joe, 17, Lower Merion: I don’t think those girls are insecure. I think they’re confident, and they know they’re hot.
  • Glenn, 18, Long Island: I didn’t tell my parents I was doing this focus group because they don’t know what sexting is, and it would be awkward to talk about it.
  • Saif, 18, Brooklyn: It’s a way to express your feelings. If a guy and a girl are in love, instead of saying it face to face, they can say it through technology.

Other articles in the NYT series

1 comment:

  1. I really think what Bill Randle says is important. Instead of using censorship and control to 'protect' our children, I feel society should work on educating themselves - one of the girls quoted says her parents don't even know what sexting is - and be able to open up lines of conversation and exchanges that will better prepare everyone. Otherwise teenagers are 'entering' the world unarmed and unprotected because they've simply never been exposed to certain problems in society.