Can You See Me Now? Teens and Sexting

When Prince Charles was caught using his cell phone to send Camilla Parker-Bowles (now his wife) an intimate message, the news made headlines over the world. The Royals were ahead of us….now ‘sexting’ is everywhere in the news and ‘hooking up’ is practically passé.

For those of you who don’t yet know, and have managed to escape Twittering, sexting is the newest parental fear (that and the flu). Children, i.e those under 18, are using their cell phones to take pictures of themselves to send to their friends or partners. As usual, technology creates new problems as it makes our lives easier. Although you can now take a picture of your child anytime— your child’s picture can also be sent without consent to strangers. Worse yet, picture s/he took in privacy, foolishly or on a dare, not intending for them to be shared, are circulating through locker rooms and libraries. Girls, in particular, are used to scrutinizing their bodies. Now, rather than holding a mirror up to themselves they hold a phone camera, and the picture may travel the length of the school corridor.

Are these pictures pornography? The laws have been turned inside out as society tries to monitor the dissemination of explicit pictures of minors and by minors. Policing this problem is not the realm of therapy—but asking what this phenomenon reveals is the domain of therapy. Our children are becoming sexually aware younger and younger. And younger. Many admit sex confuses them.  I see teens who can’t answer the simplest questions about pregnancy or risk of STDs. But they are going to have sex, they assert, and no one can tell them otherwise.

What we used to call “youth” is disappearing. A recent study blames television—it is an interesting study, hard to fault. Many parents feel adamantly that they won’t let their children watch more than 20 minutes of television. But what they may not notice is that their ‘napping child’ who watches reruns of Friends or Sex And The City, or Gossip Girl and reality TV, or even the advertisements in between is seeing sophisticated adult content. Just as most children hear everything, they see it, also. Next time you watch television—if your child is anywhere nearby, assume they are watching also.

Privacy is also disappearing. MySpace, Facebook, Yelp, Twitter and sexting encourage children to share what’s private to everyone everywhere all the time. We’re living our lives as if each of us is starring on our own reality tv show where the only thing that sells, apparently, is sex. Sadly what seems edgy on the internet or phone can lead to mistakes about safety later. We communicate so quickly and so often that we lose all the opportunity to check, to censor, to have that second better thought. In the noise, we never get to hear our intuition about what street is safe, how to earn a friend, when to decide someone has earned your trust. Adolescence has always been a time for risks and impulsivity. Now technology has given children, with cell phones supposedly to call home, tools to hurt themselves and each other.

Love letters. That would be a change. Words that are crafted, sealed, precious. Found in a drawer.

Photo credit: Alain Bachellier

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