The kids these days call it “sexting.”
Now, if you’re a Luddite, old fogey like me, you have never heard that term before. I graduated high school in 2004, and I never owned a cell phone until last July, so the social phenomena of cell phone use, texting and cell phone cameras always eluded me. I’ve learned a few things about the cell phone world since I joined the late 20th century, however.
So when I realized how easy it is to share photos over phones, I realized that high school is probably very different than I remember it. And, sure enough, a Jan. 15 article on MSNBC.com quotes a survey by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy indicating that 20 percent of teens report having sent or posed nude or semi-nude photos or videos of themselves.
For teenagers, not exactly known for their discretion or common sense, the effects of a fifth of them making dirty photos, of course, are painfully predictable. At some point, it becomes inevitable that a kid is going to take a birthday-suit photo, send it to the significant other, and they’ll both get in trouble for it. That same MSNBC.com article reports just such a scenario.
Three teenage girls, ages 14 and 15, in Greensburg, Pa., allegedly took nude or semi-nude photos of themselves and then shared these photos with three male classmates, ages 16 and 17, via their cells. These photos were discovered by authorities in October, and now the girls face charges of “manufacturing, disseminating or possessing child pornography,” while the boys face charges of possession. If found guilty, these kids could be forced to register as sex offenders for at least 10 years.
This is a delicate situation, of course – in no way should the creation of amateur teen pornography for their peers’ consumption be tolerated, winked at, excused or otherwise made somehow acceptable. Most teenagers are not adults. Most are not capable of making responsible decisions, and under the law, none of them have the capacity to consent to the production of sexual material.
This sort of thing is genuinely harmful and has the potential to haunt the subjects of such material long after they’ve grown up and left high school behind them.
But, by the same token, apparently 20 percent of all teenagers have already done this. One in five teenagers today has apparently produced some homemade porn for their peers, which means that this is already a far larger social problem than the kind of child pornography the law is equipped to handle.
Simply put, even if there was a way to detect it, it is in no way reasonable to throw the labels of “child pornographer” and “sex offender” on, say, a 16-year-old girl who takes a topless photo of herself for her 18-year-old boyfriend. These are not cases of minors being sexually exploited and abused by monstrous adults – these are cases of teenaged sexuality making use of a technology that society is unprepared for. To equate this latest manifestation of teen sexuality with child molestation and exploitation is an absurd miscarriage of justice.
What is the answer? I do not know. At some point, state laws will have to be altered to accommodate the issue of self-made teen pornography. As more and more of those 20 percent of teenagers come to light, there will be pressure on lawmakers to find a way to ban these images and put sanctions on teens who make them without equating them with sexual predators. After enough honor roll students get involved, it will be inevitable.
It seems to me, though, that there’s a much easier way of handling this social problem. Parents, you see, can simply do what my mother did: not buy their kids cell phones. It may sound harsh, but I don’t think it is. I managed to graduate high school and go four years of college without one. (And I walked 15 miles uphill in the snow, too…).
Cell phones are not necessary. They are luxuries, and if a teen demonstrates he or she cannot use one responsibly, there is no reason for him or her to be allowed to have it.
Now pardon me while I yell at those damn kids to get off my lawn.
Zach Wiita is a senior political science and theatre studies major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]