About a month ago, my 13-year-old son shared with me the story of a girl in his class who had taken a naked picture of herself and sent it to the boy she liked, who in turn forwarded it to all of his friends. Within less than a day, the photo had been circulated throughout the school and everyone had seen it. This is not a new story and for the most part there are one of two reactions to these types of situations. Some of you will immediately pounce on the boy for being callous and disrespectful and think he never should have shown the picture to anyone and should have simply deleted the picture and saved her from further embarrassment (because a young hormonal boy would have the level of consciousness needed to make this logical choice). Some of you on the other hand are thinking, he never asked for it and why would a 13 year old girl be so stupid as to take a picture of herself; she must not have any self worth and her parents must not pay enough attention to her (because it is so uncommon for a young girl to go to that point to make a boy like her right? Doesn’t this same concept apply to sex, and even teen pregnancy?).
I, on the other hand, am not surprised and don’t judge either party. This is a classic story that has been played out in movies and soap operas for generations and generations except it has a slightly different twist to it: technology.
A few weeks ago, after reading a quick article online, I attached a link to it on both of my sons’ Facebook walls with the following comment: “Sexting is now illegal in the state of Florida.” I figured if they didn’t want to heed my warnings about avoiding it (because seriously why would you listen to your mother when all she is trying to do is ruin your sexting fun?) then perhaps they would listen to the law. It’s very easy for people to point the finger at parents and say, “Those parents obviously didn’t instill morals and values into that child.” Cuz if you did, they wouldn’t do it right? Cuz if you did, they wouldn’t have sexual urges or fantasies or desires, right? I hate to break it to you people, but we are sexual beings, albeit some much more than others, but it doesn’t mean we have less values or morals than the next person.
The day I put cell phones in my boys’ hands, I spoke to them about how to “properly” use their phones. I’m also very aware of what the capabilities of these phones are (just as with the internet..and let me add that no there is no privacy in my home, my boys know that I have full access to phones, computers, emails, etc if and when I feel the need to look into them). I explained to my sons that they are not to send or forward lewd or sexually explicit pictures, and if a girl sends one to them they are to delete it immediately. I’ve discussed with them possible reasons a young girl might feel compelled to do it, I have told them that they should never ask a girl to do that, and I have cited cases where young teens have gone to jail for it. But at the end of the day, and I have said this before, I trust my kids, but I don’t trust my kids. I would like to believe that neither of my sons would forward nor show their friends a picture a young girl who may have sent it to them, but, frankly, I don’t know this for a fact.
Like sex between minors can lead to very negative consequences, sexting between minors can as well. (By the way, if you are not sure what sexting is, it is defined as: the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photographs via mobile phones.) Honestly though, this is not something new. What is new is the method of delivery; I remember receiving some sexually explicit handwritten notes from boys in high school, and we had sex codes for beepers as well. In any case, over the last few years there have been some cases where young men and women have been accused of possession and distribution of child pornography, sentenced to jail and furthermore are now labeled as sex offenders for sending or being in possession of sexually explicit messages sent between two consenting minors. If you didn’t already know that this could happen, well now you know, and the consequences of teens sexting have been quite extraordinary. Here are some examples:
In Pennsylvania, 6 teenagers were charged. Three girls for creating “child porn” (in other words the girls took pics of themselves), and three boys (who it was sent to) for possessing it. In Texas, an eighth-grader actually spent a night in prison after his coach found a nude picture on his cell phone which had been sent by another student (why was the coach on his phone??). In Wisconsin, a 17-year-old was charged with child pornography after posting naked pictures of his girlfriend, who is a year younger, on the internet. In Rochester, New York, a boy aged 16 faces seven years in jail for circulating an image of a girlfriend to friends.
A 15-year-old girl in Ohio and a 14-year-old girl in Michigan were charged with felonies for sending along nude images of themselves to classmates. Similar charges have been filed in cases in Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, and Utah. Some may remember back to the case in Florida a few years ago where a teen couple took pictures of themselves nude, and engaged in “unspecified sexual behavior.” The police got involved somehow when one of the kids sent the photo to the other. They were tried in the courts and convicted for both production and distribution of child pornography, and the teenager who had received the image also had the charge of possession. It was taken to an appeals court, and they lost. The convictions stood.
In reality, these convictions have occurred due to the fact that the law has not caught up to technology and as such teens are being tried under child pornography laws, the same as a pedophile would for possessing, taking and/or distributing photos/videos of minors without consent, because there do not exist any other laws. As a result, in an attempt to soften the laws against teen offenders, Florida has, as of June, officially made it illegal for minors to sext with the following consequences:
The first offense is a non-criminal violation punishable by eight hours of community service or a $60 fine. The second strike is a first-degree misdemeanor and on the third offense, sexting becomes a felony, carrying a maximum five-year prison sentence.
Different states have come up with their own laws in response to this seemingly innocent act between horny teenagers, in an attempt to address the issue as a separate legal issue from the more serious crime of child pornography. Albeit, some states establishing laws that make a little more sense than others; like any other law in the book.
At the end of the day, though, whether it’s illegal or not, and whether we like the idea or not, horny teens are going to continue passing dirty notes, having phone sex, or sexting each other as they explore and experience sexuality. Arguing whether the sender loses all rights to their privacy the second they hit send, or whether the receiver should have the moral capacity to know not to show someone’s dirty messages or naked pics to anyone or the Internet, does not solve much. Bottom line, if you make a law that infringes on your right to speech and expression, no matter what age you are, it is too much government for me. (Just like all these cities coming up with laws that ban people from wearing sagging pants. Are you serious??) I can however, concede that the victimization of individuals for having entrusted in another individual is very sad and heart breaking, in addition to the embarrassment and humiliation that the individual must go through that can be quite traumatic. I would never want my child to experience that humiliation or anyone else’s child for that matter. This alone is lesson enough for an individual to never do it again and serves as an example to those close to that individual.
That being said, though, I can not agree with the fact that sexting should be illegal as a form to “protect children from themselves” as Seth Grove, a Republican from York County put it, but rather, we should be looking at what is being done with the contents of those messages. For instance, it should be punishable by law when the contents are used maliciously or heinously, as could be the case with a scorned lover posting his ex-girlfriends naked picture on the internet with her name and number where it will remain permanently and could be of potential harm to her life, and her future career or social life.
In the meantime, instead of assuming my boys would NEVER BE CAPABLE of taking, possessing or forwarding sexually explicit messages, I will continue to explain to them the negative consequences sharing these types of messages could have on their lives and the lives of others (as parents with daughters should do), I will continue to encourage my boys to delete provocative pictures from girls that could get them in trouble, delete messages from their phones, tell them not encourage any female to send them sexually explicit pictures, not encourage their friends to forward sexually explicit pictures or messages, and most importantly, encourage them to keep their relationships with the young ladies around them, honorable and honest. But hey, that’s a lot easier said then done, right??!! In the meantime, I’ll keep stumbling my way through through this thing called parenthood.
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