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.
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.
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!