A minor over-reaction?

In her article, “Few Teens Sexting Racy Photos,” Lindsay Tanner discusses why sexting shouldn’t be viewed as a negative form of communication and how youth should not be prosecuted or vilified for sexting. Through research Tanner discovers that teen sexting is far less common than people think, which brings up the issue that perhaps adults (parents, faculty, dominant media) are over-reacting to the issue of sexting. Interestingly, Tanner also finds that different age groups use sexting differently. For example, there was a case in which a 10-year old boy had sent an 11-year old girl a photo of his genitals to “gross her out.” Another case involved a 16-year old girl accidentally posted a nude photo of herself on a social network and a 16-year old boy found the photo and redistributed it when the girl refused to send him more nude photos. Tanner also claims that exploring sexuality is normal teens and that sexting is, in a sense, over analyzed because it takes place in an environment that adults are not familiar with. Tanner concludes her article with Dr. Victor Strasburger, who claims that the brains of teenagers are not “mature enough to fully realize the consequences of their actions” and thus should not be prosecuted for they mistakes (Tanner).

I thought that Tanner really brought up some interesting issues with sexting that we discussed in class. I thought Tanner’s use of the two different case studies correlated with Hasinoff’s article, “Sexting as media production: Re-thinking dominant ideas about teen girls and sexuality online” which brings up the issue of age and how it determines whether sexting is good or bad. Hasinoff argues that while sexting underage is considered dangerous, wrong, and bad, sexting of age becomes a form of self-expression. In the case of the 10-year olds, the boy wasn’t prosecuted because he wasn’t old enough to “understand the magnitude of his actions” whereas in the case of the 16 year olds the boy was clearly exploiting the girl and thus sexting between youth is portrayed in a negative light.

By reassuring that exploring sexuality is normal, Tanner reverts the blame to technology and not on the teenagers who take racy photos. This brings up the issue of privacy and how social media may be causing adults to over-react to youth sexting. Mitchell’s article, “Prevalence and Characteristics of Youth sexting: A National Study,” claims that as a rapidly evolving society we have the tendency to be “easily alarmed about changing youth mores” (Mitchell). Perhaps sexting is greeted as a “sign of hypersexualization and extreme risk-taking” (Mitchell) because it’s different and it takes place in a technological environment, which makes compromising photos easier to replicate and distribute. I feel like Tanner victimizes sexters by displacing the blame on technology itself, which I believe is not the case because the technology does not replicate and redistribute sexts by itself. In their article, “Social Steganography: Privacy in Netowrked Publics” boyd and Marwick discuss the different definitions of privacy and how social norms play into this issue of privacy. Perhaps underage sexting is blown out of porportion because youth have not quite grasped the notion that there are varying degrees of privacy.

I also feel that Tanner takes a very casual approach to sexting. She claims that sexters should not be prosecuted because they don’t quite understand the consequences of their actions and that they should simply be taught that anything posted on the internet is “potentially there forever” (Tanner). She also believes that sexting has been “blown out of proportion” and how “our society has gotten hysterical” (Tanner) over under age sexting, which reminded me of our discussion of moral panic. Unlike the dominant narratives that portray sexting as dangerous behavior, Tanner portrays sexting as something teenagers are curious to experiment with.

Some questions to consider:

-If sexting is so disturbing, then why aren’t people reacting the same way to porn? I feel like there really isn’t a difference to sexting and porn. It’s basically an issue of whether you know the person in the racy photo or not. And that people in porn are paid.

-If a sext is redistributed, does it become a form of cyber-bullying? Especially if one is “forced” to take racy photos?

-Dr. Strasburger claims that “teenagers are neurologically programmed to do dumb things” (Tanner). Does this quote and the idea that exploring sexuality mean that sexting is okay for teens or is it just displacing the issue somewhere else?

-How privacy is defined through sexting: at what point does sexting cross the line of privacy? Is redistributing compromising photos without consent invasion of privacy?


Personally, I believe that reactions to sexting are overrated. In my high school, there were two sexting scandals and I thought that it was pointless for other people to be involved. I feel that getting more people involved in a sexting scandal just expands the scandal into a crisis and blows it out of proportion. It just becomes another issue of privacy and how people respect that privacy.

Leave a comment


  1. lillianzepeda

     /  March 27, 2012

    I agree that sexting has been blown out of proportion. There is evidence that shows the low number of teenagers who engage in the practice – at least fewer numbers than I expected given the amount of alert among parents and educators. However, I strongly disagree that sexting can be looked at in comparison to porn. There is more that the issue of consent and compensation – porn stars must be of legal age. The problem with sexting is not in the act; it’s in the actor. Because these are children between the ages of 10 and 18, cyber bullying and privacy become a problem. Adults are better able to deal with such net troubles; children aren’t.

    Last, I don’t think that it’s as simple as saying that kids are prone to dumb behavior. However, kids are prone to explore their sexuality. And how children and teenagers express their sexuality is historical – they will always need an outlet for sexual expression. It just turns out that the technological affordances of media in the new millennium have brought forth issues of what’s public and private. It can be equated to gay liberation and LGBT social movements where homosexuals were encouraged to “come out” and with that came the public displays of affection that similarly disturbed parents. That was understood as a dangerous and unacceptable form of sexual expression as well.

  2. I think you a made an excellent connection between the Tanner article and the Hasnioff article. I think it is interesting that in our society we have accepted and even encouraged people who are over 18 to sext, but at the same time we place a stigma on those who sext and are underage. It is such a fine line to draw and the idea of sexting will always be a gray area within our society, until we make a decision about whether we want to encourage this practice or not.

    I also agree with you about the fact that Tanner should not have placed the blame solely on technology. While technology may give us certain allowances it does not dictate our behavior. In the same vein, I think it is too simple for Tanner to simply assume that teens are “programmed to do dumb things”. Teens that redistribute inappropriate pictures know what they are doing and should be held accountable for their actions.

  3. lauraportwoodstacer

     /  April 1, 2012

    Good questions at the end, Mimi. Lillian, I also found your responses thought-provoking. You’ve all made interesting connections here!


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