Friday, April 10, 2009

'Sexting' - Sinister or Just Stupid?

About a year and a half ago my son had a call come up on his cell phone. With this lovely device you can associate a photo with a particular caller or group of callers. When I saw the photo of the naked female torso on his phone, I was immediately concerned and alarmed; was that someone he knew? Why did he have it on his phone?

After eliciting an explanation and expressing my extreme displeasure, the picture disappeared from his phone. While the person that exposed themselves for their cell phone was unidentifiable from the picture, it was undoubtedly circulated to several other people. Why would someone do something like that?

As time has passed others have had occasion to ask the same question of teenagers, both famous and not, and the reaction from the so-called responsible adult segment of our society has been as varied as there are political systems at work in our 50 states.

Our always-at-the-ready-to-pounce-on-anything-remotely-resembling-anything-sexual news media has brought forth numerous examples of kids taking pictures of themselves in various states of undress for boy/girlfriends, and finding that the ubiquitous, pervasive, and permanent nature of the Internet, combined with human error, indifference, and in some cases cruelty, has proliferated these images wayyy beyond the intended audience.

The reaction from said media, parents, other teens, and the criminal justice system has been all over the place. This has ranged from the to-be-expected ridicule from a lot of insensitive kids to a well-publicized suicide resulting from this.

As is commonplace when technology and its' uses race ahead of common sense attempts to regulate it, the response from many law enforcement agencies and prosecutors has been ham-handed and less than appropriate. This week's court case involving a Pennsylvania DA (surprise) threatening child pornography charges against three girls who circulated provocative pictures of themselves is an example. There are several other cases out there, including one from Florida where the boy who sent a nude picture of his girlfriend to others (after she sent it to him) may have to register as a sex offender.

Many people are asking if the punishment fits the crime here. Others go as far as to ask if there is a crime being committed if the images are taken and disseminated with the full knowledge and consent of the participants. Still others wonder if this is largely an unwarranted intrusion by government into the parent-child relationship. Lots of so-called experts with more time and clearer heads than mine have weighed in expertly on this subject. You can read their assessments here, here, and here.

I decided to mull over all of this from a parent's perspective, and tried to come up with something meaningful to say to my child that would hopefully stick. So here goes:

The first time that someone you love chooses to share their body with you will hopefully be something that you can happily carry with you the rest of your days on this earth. You won't need a picture to remind you; it will be an indelible imprint on your memory, a sweet something written with a purple Sharpie on the inside cover of your favorite book.

That sweet something is best when it stays with just the two of you. To make it something more than the profound statement of love and trust that it should be cheapens both the experience and those who shared it. Keep this close to your heart, for when your heart feels close to someone else.

May you have a blessed and safe Easter weekend.

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