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 online. Hasinoff 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.