It seems that a sizable percentage of parents today don’t realize that certain properties of teen behavior are similar to that of gas. If one opens a bottle of perfume in a room, soon the odor will pervade the entire area. Similarly, all the natural urges a teen feels will expand to fill the container given them. Parents who willingly provide their children with cell phones capable of accessing the internet, taking photos and videos, and sending email are gift-wrapping Pandora’s Box, tacitly tempting their children to send sexually suggestive content and, conversely, enabling them to receive such messages.
Besides all of the recent news stories serving as evidence of this trend, the only extensive poll (as far as I can find) detailing the number of teens sexting was conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl.com. Their findings, though questionable because of their online nature, indicate that 20% of teens have sent nude/semi-nude photos or videos. Eleven per cent of those aged 13-16 have done so. Approximately 50% of teens have received such a message. Given that 39% of teens have sent sexually suggestive text messages, I don’t think it premature to suspect that the sexting figures will rise. In fact, many of my students, in discussions on the consequences of such behavior, scoff at the 20% teen-sexting figure; their experiences seem to indicate it should be much higher.
These statistics are merely a symptom of the general sexualization of American culture, begun, I would argue, during the 1960s when many sought freedom for one’s body through free-love and freedom for one’s mind through drugs. Is it any wonder that now hooker-look-a-like Baby Bratz dolls line store shelves or that it is harder to find shorts for my 4 year-old daughter longer than those for my 18 month-old son? As one of many such mall magnets, Abercrombie and Fitch stores, dark and alluring in design, market clothing by having their teen models wear none. America is truly becoming a Brave New World.
Much good came out of the sixties, but in its wake was left a notion not of what your country can do for you or even of what you can do for your country but also what you can do to gratify yourself. How many civilizations have survived whose general populace seeks material comfort and security above all else?
For a behavior like sexting to take place, there must be certain factors present. Clearly, the technology is there to enable this. There also must be a fertile climate, one that encourages not an exalted, more spiritual view of sexuality, but one of a physically-based, self-serving variety. May I present to you the young teenager, a la Britney Spears, “clothed” in skin-tight, red leather? And lastly, there must be enough parents who, for whatever reasons, think their little Johnny or Jane will behave themselves if given such technology in just such a climate. For some reason, our ability to do simple math has gone caput.
Some child behavioral researchers have suggested this is only a new version of spin-the-bottle or have put forth the lame explanation that teens are just exploring their sexuality – enough with the worrying. Just let it ride.
Enough with the anything-goes philosophy already. If it is true that there is a need in a republic for its citizen-body’s virtue to serve as a safeguard of freedom, as was plainly stated by our founders, then our freedom is in peril. How is the girl (one of my students actually) who sent over 30,000 text messages in one month supposed to learn? How are teens supposed to develop healthy relationships and healthy families after engaging in such pornographic behavior? If anyone has ideas, I’d be glad to hear them.
The solution is simple: take away the phones. If your child throws a tantrum and coolly warns that you’ll regret it when he’s laying half-dead in a ditch somewhere with no way to call for help, offer to get him the Jitterbug phone. I think he’ll be pleased.
This is part two of a two-part series. Click here for the first part.About the Author: After departing Chicago sometime ago, I somehow ended up on a 15,000 acre ranch in the middle of nowhere southern Colorado teaching ranch kids. To me, every neat little historical factoid, twist, story I come across, usually by stumbling, is that washed and forgotten $20 bill in a pants pocket.