Can teens sext without causing a riot?

Sexting became a hot topic in December 2008 “when a national survey titled Sex and Tech was released reporting that 20% of teenagers had sexted.” Sexting has only persisted, if not escalated in use among teens. Defined as “the practice of sending sexually explicit images or text through cell phones or via internet applications,” modern technological affordances are more of an aide than deterrent when it comes to the sexting trend among teens. Apps like “Text Free” and “Text Plus” allow kids and teens to hide their sexting practices from parents who read through their texts so as to prevent it (ABC7 News).

More and more, adults are trying to find a way to combat the teen sexting epidemic. Though no one really knows why exactly it has become so popular among teens, many cultural “commentators assume that it is the result of an
overly sexualized culture combined with access to technology.” In most instances, convicted teen sexters (victims, perpetrators, and consensual texters alike) are charged as child pornography producers, possessors and distributors.

In Amy Adele Hasinoff‘s article Sexting as media production: Re-thinking dominant ideas about teen girls and sexuality online, she challenges the common notion that girls’ use of media is often irresponsible, dangerous, and
out-of-control because it involves sexual content. In addition, Hasinoff argues that the media, educators, researchers, parents and lawmakers should not view consensual teen sexting “as a technological, sexual, and moral crisis,” but rather as a harmless act of self-expression and pleasure.

A few days ago, an article in the Bradenton Herald revealed a University of Michigan poll that says that 81% of adults believe that an educational program, not criminal prosecution, is an appropriate consequence for teens who sext. Only 18% of adults believe that criminal prosecution is an appropriate consequence for teen sexting. In addition, most adults don’t think that minors who sext with other minors should face legal consequences. Many journalists and legislators have openly addressed this problem, but this poll really shows what the public thinks about the issue. While adults acknowledge with the fact that sexting is an issue that must be dealt with, they believe in education, counseling, and community service serve as more effective and appropriate punishments.

This study aligns with Hasinoff’s argument that teen sexting should not be viewed as a criminal action. Hasinoff argues that sexting enables teen girls to be more expressive, especially in regards to safer sex practices and sexual needs. With regard to safer sex practices, it only makes sense to encourage a media forum in which girls feel comfortable expressing themselves. Punishing teen girls with criminal charges for doing something that ultimately lets them express themselves is a counter-productive practice. Because of this, it makes sense that the majority of the public agree that there should be a less severe punishment for teen sexting.

Through education about sexting, teens can learn about the possible negative effects which include public humiliation and unwanted sexual attention. It is a practice that is often encouraged among adults to promote an active sex life, though more through text than pictures. Teens are getting mixed messages when they hear that it’s a criminal activity for them to partake in sexting, but adults are openly encouraged to do it by a number of publications and media outlets.

In our society, teen girls are told to abstain from sex and all things related. Because of this, many are afraid to express themselves when it comes down to it. Luckily, “some media researchers maintain that digital media offer potential benefits–for women and girls in particular–for navigating sexual relationships.” Hasinoff notes that “a study of teenage cell phone use in dating relationships suggests that girls can be more assertive when communicating through texting than speaking face-to-face.” Assuming that this is true, teen girls should not be criminals for something that gives them a voice. Thanks to this study, it appears that the general public agrees with Hasinoff’s assertion.

While sexting can have extremely negative consequences for anyone who takes part in the practice, effective sexting education and appropriate consequences for deviating from “normal” sexting practices such as sending nude photos or forwarding such photos without permission can help teen girls find their voice while still providing them a non-criminal way to do so. Though satirical, the sexting guidelines that Eddie mentioned in his blog post provide a good outline for both teens and adults alike in regards to sexting protocol. There is a right (or more right) and wrong way to consensual sexting, whether between two minors or two adults. Hasinoff provides some very good examples of why consensual texting between minors should not be punished severely, as it serves very much the same purpose as it does for adults. The University of Michigan study alludes to the fact that many adults in the US feel the same way as Hasinoff. Whether or not teen sexting will be completely de-criminalized remains to be seen. However, strides are being made in order to take a rational, educational approach to the teen epidemic that so many are worried about.

Love is Not Abuse

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Home Screen

Last year, fashion company Liz Claiborne Inc. launched the “Love is Not Abuse” campaign to raise awareness about relationship abuse. And to target digital relationship abuse among teenagers, they released an iPhone app that allows parents to take the positions of their teenage children by receiving texting, emailing and calling from a fictional abusive boyfriend or girlfriend. According to the article found on Mashable.com, nearly 24% of American teens have been a victim of technology abuse from a boyfriend or girlfriend, but because these teens do not recognize that they are in an abusive relationship, they remain in the dangerous relationship. Psychotherapist Dr. Jill Murray, a contributor to the app, claims many parents often overlook dating abuse, while concentrating on other topics such as drugs, alcohol and sex. This app, she hopes, will help parents recognize characteristics of abusive relationships and to get parents talking to their teens regarding this serious issue.

 

After reading this article, I immediately downloaded the app myself to get a better understanding. Upon opening the app, you are greeted by an introduction video that discusses relationship abuse. After the video, you are given two options: to experience the digital dating abuse simulator or to read up on information regarding teen dating abuse. I of course jumped right into the simulator and was quite shocked by the experience I received. During the course of the simulation that covered topics such as checking up, threatening, excessive contact, sexting and family and friends, I received over 10 phone calls, 5 text messages and 5 emails, all filled with very negative content. And even though it was just a simulation, I couldn’t help but feel just the tiniest bit less about myself afterwards. I would definitely recommend everyone to download it and experience it for themselves.

Missed Calls

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Example of "Checking In" Text

There were a couple of things I noticed from the app that was also pointed out in the article and that was how gender-biased the app was. During the threatening topic, I was explicitly contacted by a male character and during the excessive contact topic, I was contacted by a female character. I give the app credit for just having a male abuse victim, however I think but using the violent male stereotype and the clingy female stereotype, that could seriously mislead parents into thinking that females cannot be threatening and males cannot be stalkers, which is obviously not true. Actually, I was once told by a police officer that in most relationship abuse cases, it is actually the male who is the victim however because he is usually too ashamed to report it, we don’t often hear of them.

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Example of "Threatening" Text

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Example of "Excessive Contact" Email

 The second thing I noticed is a point Amy Hasinoff heavily criticizes in her article Sexting as media production. Hasinoff points out that safety campaigns against sexting often target the victims, rather than the perpetrators. These safety campaigns tell young women how to behave in order to avoid sexual predators, almost treating these young women as the ones to blame. Like the sexting campaigns, “Love is Not Abuse,” does not address the abuser but the victims and it teaches parents how to talk with the victim, even though it is clearly the abuser who needs counseling. In this case, it is almost worse than the sexting campaigns because it treats the issue after the incident has occurred whereas the sexting campaign was a preventative measure.

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Example of "Sexting" Email

 

Overall, the article nor the app ever explicitly points to social media as being a factor for relationship abuse among teens however because of the way the “Love is Not Abuse,” campaign used digital media to target teens within their campaign shows that they do believe there is some kind of correlation. The “Love is Not Abuse” campaign does not only target teen relationships as the app would lead one to believe, but targets relationships of all ages; it just uses more traditional mediums such as print to target adult relationships. It was when the campaign wanted to focus in on teens did they come up with the idea of the iPhone app. The app indicated that most teenage relationship abuse occurred in the form of digital media, which is why the iPhone app was needed in order for parents to really experience how their teenage children felt in an abusive relationship.

Mashable did a great job presenting the app and the concept however I don’t think the campaign itself was done thought out extremely well. Yes the app was extremely interesting however the campaign spokesperson is Tim Gunn. Sure teenagers may know him from Project Runway but other than that, they do not have much connection to him. He was probably chosen for the job because he is Liz Claiborne’s Chief Creative Officer, but in the video where he presents the iPhone app, he is very dry and not interesting at all. I think this app could have made more headlines if promoted properly.

Sext Ed

Underage drinking. Driving. Sexting. All parents have to give “the talk” at some point – which has now come to include something that we didn’t necessarily have to deal with growing up.  In a web series appropriately titled Text Ed, electronics company LG brings problems of today’s tech-savvy youth to the attention of their potentially out of the loop parents:  cyber bullying, ethical mobile usage, self-esteem in the digital world, text etiquette, and of course, sexting. In the video “Class 1:  Sexting,” Glee’s Jane Lynch plays a teacher explaining to a room full of uninformed parents the harms of sexting, or the distribution of images or texts via a mobile device. Lynch warns that with today’s technology, kids are able to send or receive inappropriate content, and in many states it’s a serious crime.  If in the wrong hands, sexted messages can lead to another type of STD – a sexual texting disaster.  Your honor student may sext her way right out of that scholarship.  Immediately all of the parents appear to be concerned and uncomfortable.  “Look I get it,” she says, “Talking to your kids isn’t easy.  That’s why LG put together all the tools to get the conversation started.”  Below the video a link to LG’s online Text Ed appears for Dr. Charles Sophy’s article:  The Download on Sexting. 

In Social Steganography:  Privacy in Networked Publics, danah boyd and Alice Marwick assert that teens and their parents operate on two different levels of privacy.  On one level, parents are seeking protection and try to keep their kids’s information away from harm.  On the other, teens are trying to keep their information away from their parents entirely.  While most news stories fit into the parents’ definition of privacy, LG is attempting to blur the lines between the two.  Today’s youth is used to exploiting their parents’ ignorance when it comes to technology – boyd and Marwick go so far as to cite kids creating fake profiles or using the affordances of the technology itself to block their parents from accessing content.  LG stresses educating the parent in order to catch them up with what their kids may already be taking part in and to discern them of the consequences.  Given the replicability of text messages, images that were once thought to be private have the capability to go viral within minutes.  Once widespread or in the hands of the wrong person, these images create their own inherent dangers –a damaged reputation in addition to serious legal implications. In a way, LG’s video displaces responsibility for sexting from the child to the parent. But sexting brings up a completely new conversation of how technological affordances are positioned within society.

Amy Hasinoff addresses these issues in  Sexting as a media production:  Re-thinking dominant ideas about teen girls and sexuality onlineHasinoff highlights that sexting can be empowering for young girls, giving them the self-confidence they need. But parents can’t help but to, well, be parents. Hasinoff acknowledges that teen use of sexting is very different from adult use – and so does the law.  If “kids” are above 18, sexting can be healthy and even beneficial to their relationships.  If under 18, however, sexting can be a problem because it can be dangerous.  Similar to smoking and drinking, sexting innately becomes another cite in our culture between adults and children and what is deemed “appropriate.”

It’s difficult to ignore the messages that media and pop culture are sending to today’s youth.  Supposedly squeaky-clean Disney popstars and teen idols leak nude photos just to have their name in the press, a desperate yet affective call for attention.  How are parents supposed to take this lightly? When I was growing up, I never dared walking out of the house in a short skirt or revealing top in fear of my mom telling me to turn around, go back up the stairs and change.  That type of attention was something I never wanted to have.

Regardless of how you teach your kids about the facts of life, they’re going to learn about them some way or another.  The principles of parenting have existed before your parents and will remain after your kids have kids, and what morals you try to instill in your children will have to evolve with time. Hey, I applaud LG for attempting to educate parents on sexting.  News stories can scare the living daylights out of ignorant parents who think that Facebook is the be-all end-all of our generation. By sensationalizing fear that surrounds sexting, we’re simply ignoring the larger issues.  We’re displacing the fear of child abuse and exploitation to the technology. 

Instead of a technologically determinist perspective, LG encourages parents to understand technology’s capabilities and consequences, and communicate with kids. Sophy suggests that parents create a safe sexting environment and “communicate about the issue openly, truly engage their ideas, and at the same time express your concern, your child may develop a more evolved understanding of just how serious and important this issue is.” Hmm…sounds to me like what parenting should be like in the first place.  Hasinoff believes that by telling the youth “don’t sext,” we’re telling them not to have a voice. Obviously no parent wants this for their child.  However, there are certain “private” issues that should be addressed in terms of ethicality and legality when indeed in the public sphere, and sexting has unequivocally become one of them.

Kony2012 and youth “activism” via SNS

I am one who deeply appreciates seasonably appropriate weather, so when fair-weathered, sunny days saturated the months of this past winter, I rebelled against mother nature’s ‘gifts’ and sought comfort in the solitude of my chilly NYU dorm room, doing what we as members of the youth living in a digital age do to remedy our boredom: I Facebooked. Yes I did, indeed, just use the social network(ing) site as a verb, and I further digress, but I find it important to paint a picture of where and when it was that I was suddenly “attacked” by social media. I had spent countless hours on the site one not-so-cold winter night “stalking” and scoping my activity feed for the perfect opportunity to leave some kind of witty comment that would make clear to my own networks, whoever it was that was potentially reading my comments, that my sense of humor was intact. Alas, such opportune posts on which to achieve this were scarcely found, and as I traversed my ‘feed’, my screen was suddenly inundated with the words KONY2012. The variety that was once characteristic of this social space was suddenly replaced with the uniform. This, in combination with the sudden realization that I did not seem to know some of my closest friends as well as I thought I had (seeing as how they turned out to be part-time, under-cover social activists all deciding to “come out” at the same time), married to instill a strange anxiety within me. In hindsight, as a social media student I was both annoyed and, admittedly, impressed at how the “Kony 2012 Movement” was able to exploit the necessary desire that we as social beings using digital media possess to “write ourselves into being” (danah 129). Gone were the days when visual evidence, pictures from our latest “Habitat for Humanity” effort in a far away country, immersed in wildlife or orphanages, were necessary in order to garner the title “humanitarian”.

Truth be told, I am obviously one for the dramatics; I suppose my reaction to the campaign was, in reality, not so heated or emotional. And, contrary to the impression of myself that I have just earned, I shared in the collective sympathy and emotional reactions to the viral video. My Facebook page, however, went unchanged. Why? As a student of social media networking, I understood that doing so would serve as an intentional attempt at painting myself as a social and political activist. Those who had posted in my newsfeed, however, may not have had the same understanding of the ramifications of sharing such a post, while others, conversely, may have understood full well the art of “writing oneself into being”, shared with an acute intentionality of consequently titling oneself a “humanitarian”.

Iman Baghai, a high school Junior of Issaquah, Washington, writes in celebration of the “Movement” in the Teens section of huffingtonpost.com, naming it the “first real social media movement to capture everyone’s attention in the West”, further emphasizing the success as a shift in gears away from our luxurious Apple products. The statistics, she argues, are undeniable; the video was viewed over 67 million times on Youtube within the first five days, and has gained over 15 million more views on the site to date. As a teen, herself, Baghai’s article is in a way a self-reflection on the community to which she participates; teens in the US engaging with each other using digital media, as well as an engagement with the medium itself. She writes, “over the past week, we have witnessed youth utilizing social media to bring forth an issue to the forefront of conversation.” The rest of her piece, however, is dedicated to an opposing side to the debate surrounding the Kony2012 movement. Her delineation of this argument without doubt echoes numerous assertions made by danah boyd in her piece “Why Youth ❤ Social Network Sites”.

In her work “Why Youth ❤ Social Network Sites”, danah boyd quotes Jenny Sunden: people must learn to write themselves into being; doing so makes visible how we take the body for granted. Luckily for my activist friends, the genius in Kony2012 was in its ability to mask this ‘visibility’ of which boyd speaks; in other words, echoing my earlier rant, establishing oneself to their Friends as an activist did not require a photo album dedicated to highlighting visibly their tireless labors, but afforded this very title to those who simply ‘copied’ and ‘pasted’ a link to their profiles. According to boyd, building a public profile is an act of socialization into the digital age, a “mechanism by which teens can signal information about their identities and tastes” (128). She argues, “because of [the] direct link between offline and online identities, teens are inclined to present the side of themseves that they believe will be well received by [their] peers” (129). It is my own assumption that many of these Friends in my newsfeed posting about Kony2012 do not themselves have stores of photographs which tell the story of their other humanitarian endeavors; the Movement, as it seems to me, was able to partner with the technology itself, affording Facebook users the ability to share with their networks a facet of their being that they had been previously unable to solidify because of a lack of evidence. In this case, Kony2012 provided evidence in making “sharing” and incredibly touching, well-made video the only necessary labor or barrier of entry into this newly forming group of activists.

It did not take long, however, for the Kony2012 to lose strength in its foundation; the searchability and persistence that boyd also introduces (boyd 126) allowed for researchers to shed light on a few less-than-moral practices made by the Invisible Children foundation, even before the campaign’s video was finished. In November of 2011, Foreign Affairs magazine published an article revealing that several organizations, one of which being Invisible Children, manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of the LRA abductions and murders.” It also lost some support when it was made public that only 30 percent of its contributions were going to the efforts in Uganda. Baghai reflected in her article, be careful and do research before [we] donate to a charity to ensure [our] money is being well-utilized.” She continues her effort at self-reflection: even after a very arousing tale, a video being “liked” by all our Facebook friends, and Oprah tweeting about it, you still must check your facts.

Our Parents & the Internet: a Union that We Must Accept

As I sat down at my computer to pump this blog post out, my roommates sat in my living room watching last week’s Modern Family episode, Send Out the Clowns. When I heard one of the characters, Claire, ask her teenage daughters “hey, how come you guys haven’t accepted my friend request?” I immediately realized how important this entertainment content obviously was to my college career and hopped on the couch with them to watch what America’s favorite lovable family had to say about the contextual collapse that so many teenagers and young adults find themselves experiencing nowadays.

Claire’s daughters explain that to them, its an issue of privacy as well as identity:

“We got her request the first time but ignored it. I can’t have her on there snooping around seeing what I’m doing at parties.”
“…or posting pictures of us on family vacations wearing old dorky clothes.”

Not only are they hesitant of her catching them doing something wrong (she is what many youth would consider their nightmare audience,) but also, they are concerned with what her entrance into their online world could bring to their social lives.  In their minds, along with those of many youth nowadays, the world they’ve crafted on the Internet is simply somewhere their mother does not belong.  The pictures, discussions, events, etc that occur on their Facebook page form a network that a large number of youth want separate from certain people in their lives, often their parents or other family members.  As danah boyd and Alice Marwick explain in “Social Steganography: Privacy in Networked Publics, “teens are trying to vocalize that social network sites should have understood boundaries, driven by a collective understanding of social contexts…attempting to clearly mark Facebook as a space for friends” (17).  They also make note in their article that since social network sites first emerged, they have become a place where teenagers can finally feel that they have a “place” in society, as well as somewhere they can express themselves freely: “as physical spaces for peer sociability have disappeared or been restricted, and as teens have found their access structurally or socially curtailed, the value of mediated spaces where teens can gather has increased” (8).

As teenagers spend their days crafting their own personal identity through their interactions with the world and others, many stray from the grasp of their parents who have raised them thus far.  They are yearning for a sphere to call their own, but more importantly a place that they can experiment and grow in without having to censor themselves.  Facebook provides what boyd and Marwick refer to as an “illusion of control,” where youth feel in control of the content they publish as far as who will see it.  One of Claire’s daughters explains this very thought to her mother, “you know they have a lot of blocks on there to protect kids from weirdos.”

Aside from showing us why many teenagers don’t want their parents in their online social spheres, Modern Family does something much more important: it shows teens that although they may think otherwise, their parents could have reasons for wanting to join their online social circles other than to “spy” on them.  Claire explains, “I figured if you can’t fight it…there’s nothing wrong with catching up with a few old friends or doing a little social networking with my BFFs (referring to her daughters).”  With social networks expanding every day and becoming such an important part of so many aspects of our lives, it is possible that many adults simply have the urge to be more involved with their children’s lives as well as the online world in general.

While teenagers and young adults today seem to have placed an ownership stamp on social networks, it’s important to realize that the Internet is becoming a more welcoming environment to every age group by the minute. Its expansion is not something that can be fought, and thus simply must be accepted. Technology is advancing and users of all age groups are grasping onto it. However, what may be good news for many youth is that as their types of users grow, these sites continually take shape to balance this. For example, Facebook (with its own astounding 845 million monthly active users,) has done so by implementing many ways to customize the privacy of every bit of content published.  Although it may soon become very common place for parents and their children to become “friends” online, it is becoming easier every day to create separate networks within social network sites, allowing youth to maintain the privacy that they may feel is being torn away from them.

Register at Your Own Risk

Before the Internet became the Information Superhighway or the ultimate playground for predator’s or Pandora’s Box and the root of all evil, parents were worried with a little gadget called the telegraph. That’s dinosaur technology for us now but guardians were worried about the creeper at the other end of the wire just as much as they are now with the person behind the profile. Sure there have been many cases of children who have been prey for sick-minded adults but to say that the Internet is a place where children are unsafe and vulnerable is an exaggeration. What’s more, sexting can’t fit under the same umbrella if it’s between people who are romantically involved. Of course we wish that teenagers had better judgment and weren’t so naïve about who they show their nude bodies to; but the danger of being exposed though social media can’t be put in the same danger zone as meeting nefarious strangers. In many cases sexting can be irresponsible but putting you at risk for pregnancy… and rape? That’s a slippery slope.

As shown in Prevalence and Characteristics of Youth Sexting: A National Study, the number of youth involved in the exchange, both consensual and not, of sexual content through social media, is not as alarming as we might have thought. In fact, only 1% of the youth surveyed had been involved in an exchange that potentially violated child pornography laws within the past year (Mitchell et al, 6).

Aside from parents and educators worried about their exhibitionist children, religious leaders are addressing the trend and making it part of their indoctrination – good church going kids don’t sext. In two article posted about the topic: Sexting: Youth Pastors Deal with New Challenges; and Growing Sexting Trend and How to Respond posted on Effective Youth Ministry’s website, only extreme cases are showcased. In the first article the story of a young man who was convicted on charges of child pornography is told – he was eventually placed on the list of sexual offenders. What isn’t emphasized, though, is that the woman who he shared photos of was his girlfriend,17 at the time of the incident. In the second article, faulty data is used to convince readers that sexting is at epidemic levels – it includes people ages 13-26 in its survey sample. A person over eighteen no longer falls under child pornography restrictions – parents have no business monitoring a 26 year old’s sexual behavior.

It’s important to make the distinction of age and relationships because they are important players behind sexting. More importantly, these players are overlooked when measuring the number of teenagers engaging in sexting and the consequences displayed don’t necessarily always follow. They’re poisoning the well – posing a false dilemma, “register at your own risk”.

Church going or non-church going, teenagers are at their hormonal peek, fitting into their new and developing bodies. Who knows if before sexting, email, and Facebook, these kids weren’t exposing themselves in person-to-person contact, or weren’t sending each other sexually explicit messages elsewhere. These mediums have simply made it easier to store and replicate the messages.

Furthermore, the dangers in sexting aren’t in encountering strangers and sexual predators. None of the survey results or examples in the article demonstrate that a child has been molested or sexually assaulted as a result of sexting. That’s not to say that it isn’t dangerous – it’s just a different kind of dangerous. It can harm social relationships, your reputation and future but it won’t put a female at a higher risk of getting pregnant, much less by a stranger. Of course, it’s important to mention that most cases of rape occur between people that know each other. Still, there is no evidence to back the conclusion that sexting leads children to unwanted sexual contact with strangers.

As with most that is mysterious and unknown, sexting is a new practice, and older generations who are not familiar with it are, to no surprise, overly-concerned. It’s an issue but it’s not going to destroy the lives of our youth. It may well be a tool for sexual expression, and a vent safer than frequent sexual encounters. Such content when produced my females may well work as a liberator from gender norms and can be in some ways considered a feminist movement, as discussed by Amy Adele Hasinoff. Not to say that it should be considered media production, though – that’s a leap that implies mass production, which I’m not willing to take.

Sexting: it ain’t so bad!

It’s no shock that sexting can result in terrible outcomes. There have been cases of suicide and bullying, especially involving teens and young adults. An Ohio news team covered a story about Mansfield Middle School and how they’ve chosen to address the issue of teen sexting and cyberbullying. The article notes how big of an issue it is, especially for parents, living in the Mansfield area. The story focuses on what the school has been doing for the parents, providing them with a cyberbulling and sexting workshop where parents can learn about the dangers of sending explicit images that “can never be deleted.” The school is mainly aiming to make parents aware of the dangers their children are in and wants to teach them how to prevent it from happening.

While I understand the issue with middle school students sending one another explicit images, I don’t think the school addressed the issue in the proper way. Youth use media as the new public space to interact and talk with friends, according to dana boyd in her article “Why Youth ❤ Social Networks.” Kids no longer feel as though there are physical places they can go to with a group of friends without feeling like they’re unwanted or causing a disruption, so they turn to social media. While they can be in the comfort of their home, they can still escape the grasps of their parents ever-watchful eye. After all, that’s part of what growing up is all about.

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There are dangers of sexting that teens need to be aware of, but that’s just the problem. Mansfield Middle School is teaching the parents about sexting and bullying and not addressing who’s actually participating in the act: youth. Kids will only feel more trapped under the grips of their parents if they’re simply being lectured by an adult who they may assume already doesn’t trust their access to technology, and that’s the opposite of what Mansfield wants. As boyd notes, the more parents worry and agitate kids to “protect themselves” online, the more kids will engage in this act just to “avoid the watchful eye of parents.” The last thing you want to do is have your kid lying to you about the way they use technology. However, by not highlighting the potential danger and instead teaching parents new ways to sneakily watch how their kids are interacting with social media is only furthering the gap.

While I agree that sexting (especially among minors) is not to be taken lightly, I think it gets a very bad rap. I don’t think it helps that sexting is linked with teens, who are perceived to be living in “an overly sexualized culture” that now can take that culture onto the web. Sexting doesn’t just happen with teens, but when it does it can go in two directions. Yes, it can definitely be a method for bullying and a way for people to exploit others by violating their privacy. Parents fail to see that teens actually care about their privacy though, and it leads to them taking extreme measures to keep them safe. In trying to teach them the importance of maintaining their privacy in social media, parents violate the boundaries teens have created between the two of them (either with their social profiles, sexting, etc). They use this as justification for violating teens online privacy, by snooping and controlling what they have access to. This is “the key hypocrisy surrounding teens and privacy” according to boyd and Marwick.

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So while there are very real dangers about the possibility of being exploited through social media, it can also be a way for teens to explore their sexuality. By producing sexuality through a form like sexting, they’re likewise producing their own media. It’s a way to explore the technology and, what most fail to realize, actually has the potential to be totally safe. It can be an agreed upon private act between two people. It can be consensual and that’s what a lot of people don’t understand. It’s also a method of self-expression. As noted in “Sexting as Media Production” on the issue, “sexual image production is not inherently harmful, but that the malicious distribution of private images certainly is.”

Likewise, sometimes it’s easier for teens to express their true feelings through a less personal mode of communication such as texting. It’s hard to always speak face-to-face with someone on certain topics and thus social media can give teens more confidence to speak their minds. Going along with that, it’s sometimes harder for youth to express their sexuality in person. With sexting, they can explore their feelings and themselves in a new context that could help them build confidence and understand their sexuality more (“Sexting as Media Production“). Of course this has the potential to go awry, but if done in a safe way I see no problem!

LiKe ZoMg Ur So HoTtTtT!!! <3 <3

Before diving off the intellectual deep-end, it is important to secure an adequate flotation device to prevent yourself from sinking.

For me, this has always been George Michael’s “Faith.” So, spin this, while you skim over some of my thoughts on the use of media in American youth:

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George Michael – Faith


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As much as I would love for this video to be an example of youth media discourse, it is painfully irrelevant. I just like to ‘set the mood,’ if you will.

I recently found an article that, although briefly, seemed to feature a few fully-grown adults actually praising youth’s involvement in social media, (I KNOW, SHOCKING). It seems like the majority of the headlines we read (because let’s face it, that’s all we read), try to put social media in the same categories as drug use and unprotected sex with multiple partners. It only takes one child-abduction or one case of sexual harassment spawned from the internet to have pundits and talking heads up in arms about children online and the degenerating effect the web will certainly have on all of us. To that I say: puh-lease! Is this a joke? I mean, I get it. We should certainly be wary of a technology that can bring strangers into our homes (digitally, that is) and near our children. Cool. I get that. But by some divine cruelty the media has taken it upon themselves to instill our family values…with their values. I’m not even sure if it happens anymore, but my dad used to tell me how the evening news would always start its broadcast with, “It’s ten o’clock, do you know where your children are?” And while I fully appreciate the sentiment behind that question, it feels a little backhanded, maybe even fear-mongering, to ask viewers where their children are and then start a local news program filled with rapes, murders and child abductions. Have you watched your local news in the last year? It is ALL, I repeat, ALL stories of crime and tragedy. There is nothing positive about local news programs. So, why is this relevant? Because I firmly believe that the media control culture. Maybe not all too consciously, but through the way they frame issues, prioritize stories, and even more simply, the way they interact with each other serves as a strange model of “normal” for the rest of us the fall in line with. I would argue that the frenzy of media and information flowing at us 24/7 creates a climate where people are unable to even learn the truth about a topic at times. What I suppose I am saying is that rather than critiquing a specific piece of discourse, I would sooner critique the idea of discourse itself. Which…really…serves no purpose, so allow me to bite off a small piece and chew on it for a while:

The aforementioned article is from a site called EducationViews.org, a site operated by former textbook publishers, department of education employees, and general wizards of pedagogy. Assuming it was a pretty reputable site, I sniffed around until I found an article that seemed to stand out amongst others regarding social media:

“According to a new World Vision 30 Hour Famine study, conducted online in January by Harris Interactive, more than half of teens (55 percent) say social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have made them more aware of the needs of others.”

It was pleasantly surprising to find opinions like that floating around amongst these academics. The article’s study was done by the group who sponsors and organizes 30 Hour Famine, a charity organization designed to raise money/awareness of global hunger problems by having students pledge to go 30 hours without food and try and empathize with the plight of the world. So, admittedly, there is room for some bias here. I mean, if this study was taken of kids who were already volunteering for a charity, it may suffice to say that they are not the kinds of people who would allow something ‘bad’ to happen through their use of social media. But regardless, there is a small light now in the dark tunnel of social media’s reputation. These students were able to use social media as a social tool (huh, imagine that) and seemed to supplement their personal relationships with what they were able to learn from other students from a different proximity. If nothing else, this is what social media was designed for (you know, aside from making stacks of money). Social media is a gift for people to engage and interact in ways never possible before. I think it is a shame that the negative aspects or even the potential for negative aspects, inherent in any new technology, seemed to have risen to the surface and overshadowed all the good that came come from it.

The thing about social media is…”media” is a plural noun, which means when we say “social media” we are referencing all types of media that can be social. By extension, I would say that texting is a very specific type of social media, and sexting is a very specific type of social media.

The thing about sexting is…we’ve all done it. And if you haven’t done it you’re a liar. And if you truly haven’t done it, you are certainly hoping to one day. I hope this realization hasn’t offended you. It shouldn’t. And I mean the text-based sexting, of course. I don’t think we all want to send naked images of ourselves up to space and back down again. But sex is just as natural as sleeping and eating, yet it carries this horrific stigma in America and gives people the “oogies” at times. Have you ever been watching Comedy Central with your parents, say around 10-11 o’clock and a Girls Gone Wild commercial comes on? Awkward, right? How bout those commercials now that say “vaginal mesh” like 8 times? It’s uncomfortable! But why? I’m not sure I will ever fully know that answer, but I would put a lot of the blame on the way we all get shifty-eyes when someone says anything vaguely sexual.

Boobs! Penis! *shifty eyes*

See??

I think the nature of sex and all its implications lends itself to being thrown greatly out or proportion. This may sound radical, but before Man invented age, and time, sex was something you did when you were able to, as in, once you went through puberty. It may be weird to think about (see, ‘oogies’ above) but our bodies are ready to have sex when we hit maybe 12-14? This physical readiness clashes with our cultural need to preserve sex until adulthood, or even marriage, when our natural inclinations begin much sooner. So why wouldn’t we all just be the sex-craved maniacs we all are, right? We’ve been fighting urges since the day we got them!  Sexting seems to me like a natural expression of natural desires but through a digital platform, which we know can lead to replication, and seems to persist in existence much longer than any spoken thought or idea.

So what is so horrifying here? Is it a father finding a naked picture of his teenage daughter online and going ballistic? Yes. But it’s also a drastic encroachment on personal privacy and even freedom. Hasinoff feels that, “rather than viewing adolescents’ creative use of digital media to express their sexuality as a potentially positive development, the dominant media, legal, and educational response to sexting has viewed it as a technological, sexual, and moral crisis.” UGH this is spot on. The natural reaction from a parents persepctive would be to tighten your grip on your child and shield them from the dangers of sex and all that comes with it, but how is that helping a child? Would it not be better to promote education and a respectful understanding of sex in its social context for both grade-school life and beyond? Hasinoff later says, “struggling to understand sexting, many cultural commentators assume that it is the result of an overly sexualized culture combined with access to technology.” Really? Because…I think sexting would have gone on if cell phones were around in the 80’s, certainly the 70’s and you know it would have gone down in the 60’s. I’d have to side with Hasinoff here because I don’t really understand why were are the over-sexualized generation. Maybe because we are all-around more attractive than people of the past? (self-high-five). Maybe because of how nonchalant celebrities and other figures seem to be about sex? But, should we be that passive about sex? It is a major part of a person’s life, not to mention a necessary function for the continuation of our species. So why paint it as some heathenish act that only the bad kids do? A girl will know when boys start liking her. Boys know it too. That is not something we can change in the fabric of American youth. But what we can change is the way we conceptualize sex entirely.

Celebrities Do It, So Why Can’t We?

The blending of children’s and adult’s media has created a world in which 10 year olds and 25 year olds can interact and have interests in common. It has sped up the growing up process and slowed down the growing old one. We talk a lot about the “influencers” in the media world today at the PR/marketing firm that I intern at. Most of our clients are spirit and beer companies, so we try to find talent that caters to “partiers” or whatever you would call them, but I realized that most of them are musicians or actors that my little sister (age 13) also likes and look up to.

In the article, “Are Celebrity Nude Photo Scandals Contributing to Young Women Sexting?,” Hollie McKay writes about the prevalence of female celebrities sexting scandals and how it is a dangerous influence for teenage girls. “’Young girls emulate and imitate their idols as a way to connect and feel closer to them, and thus copying bad celebrity behavior becomes another way for young girls to bond with their idols, while also creating their own identity and attracting more attention’” (McKay). She goes on to warn teenagers about the dangers of sexting by stating examples of tragic sexting-gone-wrong incidences that traditional media sources love to report. Girls are depicted, as always, the stupid ones who are victimized and boys are depicted as criminals and distributors of child pornography.

Even though McKay speaks of sexting in a negative way, I think she  is right to suggest that celebrities’ “bad” actions may influence young girls negatively, instead of immediately assuming that kids who sext are sneaky and “rotten,” as media discourse usually does. In Amy Hasinoff’s article “Sexting as media production: Re-thinking dominant ideas about teen girls and sexuality online,” she says that “it is important to recognize the cultural and structural restrictions that shape girls’ sexuality, it is equally important to recognize that sexting, like more celebrated forms of media production, could be one way that girls negotiate, respond, and speak back to sexual representations of youth and femininity in mass media—by producing their own.” So when girls see all the attention that celebrity sexting garners, they think that that behavior is condoned, attractive, and even empowering. It is easy for young girls to rationalize sending sexts when they see boys their age ogling over leaked celebrity sexts. Hasinoff says “rather than dismiss teenage girls’ sexual media production practices as a symptom of their victimization by a sexist culture… it is vital to examine sexting and online sexuality as a form of media production and self-expression.” We should not have the right to say what is appropriate or inappropriate in someone else’s private life just because we are over the age of 18. I think that adults taking preventative measures that are condescending does nothing but upset the teenage girls that they are primarily targeting. It plants a “what do you know” mindset in the teenager’s mind and they completely disregard the message. When teenagers sext, they do think of the consequences before they send the sext. Lecturing them otherwise is mostly useless. In the article, “Prevalence and Characteristics of Youth Sexting: A National Study” written by Kimberly Mitchell and colleagues, it is said that society and especially adults are “easily alarmed about changing youth mores,” so they want to take measures that prevent children from behaving in a way that makes them uncomfortable, when sexting may be becoming normalized in their children’s generation. Perhaps the only way to really stop teenage sexting is for the media to stop glorifying female sexuality.

Hasinoff continues to say that the “internet and cell phones permit instant communication that is removed from traditional social contexts and consequences, these technologies make girls more likely to make inappropriate sexual decision. Practice leads to earlier sex, more sexual activity, and teenage pregnancy.” I think that her reasoning is a little too technologically deterministic. Yes, technology may remove communication from traditional social contexts, but it may not necessarily promote real, physical sexual activity. Girls are constantly fed sexual images from magazines, television shows and films, so it is only natural for them to think that presenting themselves in a sexual way is appropriate. Yet, they are also always warned about the dangers and consequences of teenage sexuality. So, as Rebekah Willet says in her article, ‘‘’As soon as you get on Bebo you just go mad’’: young consumers and the discursive construction of teenagers online“, “on the one hand, the child is positioned as a not-yet competent, not-yet complete social actor who is at risk; and on the other hand, the child is constructed as empowered.” With such conflicting and confusing messages, the teenager has all the power to choose what they believe on their own. Since we are constantly forced to consume hypersexualized images in mainstream media, we should understand why children and teenagers behave “inappropriately.” I listen to some of the same mainstream music that my younger sister (age 13) and that the girls who I babysit (age 10) listen to, so why should I expect them to interpret and act on the messages they hear differently than any other adult or I do?

Warning: SNS use may have harmful effects on your self-image, self-esteem, mind, and body.

In class, we’ve discussed different issues concerning teens and privacy.  How they portray themselves on the various social networking sites can play a factor in how others perceive their identities.  But what happens when others become involved in creating your online personality (especially unwanted help)?

A made for TV movie entitled Cyberbully, was made in hopes to “delete digital drama.”  It shows a teenage girl named Taylor Hillridge, becoming a victim to cyber bullying.  She received a laptop for her seventeenth birthday, without having to deal with her mom watching over her shoulder at what she is doing online.  Taylor created a “Cliquesters” page (the movie’s version of Facebook/Myspace), and was soon attacked by her fellow peers.  Her own brother hacked into her account and wrote a sexually explicit status.  People were portraying her as a “slut” through comments on her wall and pictures, and also created a fake video portraying her as being pregnant and selling her body on street corners.   Also, one of her best friends created a fake profile (unbeknownst to Taylor till the end of the movie), where she posed as a teenage boy named James.  The purpose of this was to distract Taylor from another boy in her high school (who she felt he only liked her so he could hook up with her), and make her fall for James.  The plan backfired, and in retaliation Taylor’s friend (as James) posted that he had sex with her and that she gave him an STD.  Because of all the drama created on “Cliquesters,” Taylor attempted to commit suicide (though was unsuccessful).

In this movie, Taylor’s mom was very vocal about her dissent of the use of social networking sites, as we can see in real life as well.  She trusted Taylor to use the internet with responsibility and not to give out personal information.  Every time something happened on her profile, the mother told her to take down the account.  But who is really going to listen to their parents anyway?

Hasinoff, points out that there is this moral panic around adults of what teenagers are doing with their phones and Facebook.  They are worried about their children meeting strangers online who set out to hurt them, based on what teenagers provide online.  But the problem that we found in class with this belief is that we are sensationalizing the few cases where it is a stranger’s fault, and displacing our anger and frustration onto the technology we are using.   However, in the case of Cyberbully, Taylor’s poor self-image and depression, were not created by a stranger, but by those who were closest to her.  Maybe parents should start to realize that perhaps it’s not the technology of Facebook or cell phones.  People put so much emphasis on the dangers of these social networking sites and that users don’t understand their capabilities.  It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee.  Yes, these sites offer the affordances to do such things as post videos, pictures, wall posts, and personal information about ourselves.  But on the other hand (as I have stated in a few of my other blog posts), these technologies do not offer the means of posting negativity on the internet, rather it is the user.

I personally have also had to deal with negativity on Facebook (and I wasn’t even in high school).  A few months ago, I dealt with a bad break up and was starting to develop a new relationship.  One of my closest friends, decided to take it upon herself to air my dirty laundry on Facebook, by posting statuses about my situation and calling me several derogatory names.  I was in complete distraught by everything that was going on, and had a really rough time dealing with the situation.  Of course, my mother believed this was Facebook’s fault, like every other parent quick to jump to blaming technology.  It’s easy to blame the technology over an actual person, especially one who is important to you.  I knew my friend was the one I had an issue with, not Facebook. From that experience, I realized who really is in control of what they do or say online, and what effects might stem from it.

We shouldn’t concern ourselves with blasting Facebook (or other such sites) as the evildoer.  It is all about how we present ourselves, and the way we choose to use these sites.   We need to come to terms that there is no third person effect, we are all affected by media in some way shape or form, based on how people choose to use the different technologies.  People need to take control of their usage and realize that there are consequences, not just for themselves, but for others.