Modern American teens and flashy smart-phones go hand-in-hand, but a new study on " teen digital abuse" is making many parents wary. Sponsored by MTV and the AP, the survey reports that 1/3 of adolescent respondents admitted to "sexting," or exchanging sexually explicit text messages and images. The practice has gained attention because of several high-profile celebrity scandals (most recently involving Tiger Woods) and, more importantly, tragic instances of teen suicide in the wake of sexting fallout at schools. MTV is hoping that its new, multimedia awareness campaign will convince even more people that the issue needs to be seriously addressed. With few exceptions, bloggers were largely in favor of the effort.
- Predictable But Poignant Writing for blog The Frisky, Jessica Golberg initially downplays the survey before doing a double-take: "Did you guys know that water is wet? Yep, it’s true. Also, sexting is really popular with teens, according to an Associated Press and MTV poll. But really, there are some surprising findings here. A quarter of youngins have sent a salacious photo or video to another’s phone, and experts think sexting is related to the same reasoning that leads to high rates of teen car accidents." Gawker's Ravi Somaiya undergoes a similar about face, first writing: "The story is mostly 'sexting is bad, don't do it kids and don't do drugs and stay in school' in its tone. Which probably makes sense in light of the trouble [Tiger] Woods is in." Still, he proceeds to highlight an especially striking finding:
Young people today are rebels. They're loose-cannon cops who refuse to do things by the book, no matter what the chief says. Over half those surveyed said they didn't care that some people have faced felony charges for sending naked pictures of themselves to others. The half that did express some concern said they'd continue to do it anyway.
- Hear Hear! At the Huffington Post, Buzz Marketing founder Tina Wells explains why MTV is exactly the right type of company to be researching teen sexting and spearheading a campaign against it: "MTV does this kind of thing well. Their True Life series commonly address issues that are facing young people by following them through their paths of struggle and redemption. This gives young audiences a chance to observe their peers who are facing similar problems and opens them up to being more receptive to talking about their own issues. It is a format that has proven to be effective and relatable…And while it's crucial that young people are given a platform to learn about their problems, I also believe MTV's initiative will help to educate their parents."
- It's Still Up to Parents At the aptly named child-rearing website Parenting Advice, Andrea Hermitt is amazed that "with all the conversations and warnings going on about sexting…[the teen] numbers have still gone through the roof." Looking to the incidents of disrepute and suicide that have occurred from sexting, she notes: "As bad as sexting is, the torture that follows it is worse. This is why it is in the parents best interest to take steps to prevent teenagers for engaging in sexting." Finally, she offers her own suggestions on what parents can do, including everything from purchasing phones without internet access to detailing all the "gory details" of what can occur if kids aren't responsible with their digital devices.
- Don't Forget, Sexting Is A Serious Criminal Offense At Child Law Blog, James R. Marsh reminds parents that in addition to being irresponsible and socially precarious, sexting, especially by minors, is actually a federal crime:
While their underaged sexual activity is probably legal under state law, creating a visual record of ANY teenage sexual activity is illegal production of child pornography under federal law and subjects the creator, distributor and recipient to a mandatory minimum five year sentence. Sexual activity includes actual or simulated masturbation, sexual intercourse, or a 'lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area.' Parents can be liable too. Any parent who 'knowingly permits' such activity 'or has reason to know' such activity is occurring faces a 15 year mandatory minimum sentence in a federal prison…Federal prison is far cry from the 'flirty exciting hot fun' most teenagers experience while sexting.
- Manufactured Outrage One blogger going by mbtrotter rails against the media for "leaving the topic alone" for months only revisiting it now to feign social responsibility in the midst of salacious Tiger Woods coverage. Condemning the story as overblown and claptrap, he accuses parents of keeping double-standards: "What led to a new story about sexting and its accompanying headlines and teases designed to scare the bejesus out of parents of children ages 12-40? An Associated Press-MTV poll. (Oh, sure. MTV is bad until it hooks up – pun intended – with the AP to issue a survey about teens sharing sexually explicit content of themselves. Then parents are all ears.)" Meanwhile, at IntoMobile, blogger Stefan Constantinescu confesses that at least in his mind, sexting is an acceptable behavior, even if the consequences are disquieting:
I’ll be the first to admit I’ve sexted more times than I care to count, but I’ve never regretted it at all. Is some middle aged man with an affinity towards young, hairless, slightly overweight men, masturbating furiously at an image that one of my former conquests shared online with her friends? Probably. Ewww.