The New York Times is tackling the issue of “sexting” among teens today, joining the ranks of newspapers and magazines tackling sexting over and over and over again. Anything new this time around?
The latest, “A Girl’s Nude Photo, and Altered Lives,” is the story of an eighth-grader in Washington state named Margarite who sent a naked picture of herself to her new boyfriend. Obviously, recipient Isaiah sent the picture to one of Margarite’s enemies, who disseminated it hither and yon with this message attached: “Ho Alert! If you think this girl is a whore, then text this to all your friends.” Kids are cute these days, huh.
And so, long story short, the kids responsible got arrested and spent the night in juvie, and were charged with dissemination of child porn (those charges were later dropped).
Officials took away Isaiah’s clothes and shoes. He changed into regulation white briefs and a blue jumpsuit. He was miserable and terrified.
“My socks got wet in the shower,” Isaiah said.
This should be in a handbook for “Ways Not to Deal With 13-Year-Old Children.” It’s a terrible incident, both in the way it was handled and just generally. But before we all continue to lose our fucking minds about the sexting scourge, let’s look at some numbers.
Here’s what the Times says:
The prevalence of under-age sexting is unclear and can often depend on the culture of a particular school or circle of students. An Internet poll conducted for The Associated Press and MTV by Knowledge Networks in September 2009 indicated that 24 percent of 14- to 17-year-olds had been involved in “some type of naked sexting,” either by cellphone or on the Internet. A December 2009 telephone poll from the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project found that 5 percent of 14- to 17-year-olds had sent naked or nearly naked photos or video by cellphone, and that 18 percent had received them. Boys and girls send photos in roughly the same proportion, the Pew survey found.
Outraged? In reality, those are not impressive or scary numbers. Twenty-four percent have been involved in “some type of naked sexting”; I’m surprised it’s not more.
Then there’s a survey from a couple years ago from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy which showed that roughly 20 percent of teens had participated in some form of sexting. Which CBS called “shockingly common,” but that’s sensationalist and wrong. That’s a fifth of all teens, also known as a minority. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Of course, there’s no way to pin down for sure how many kids are actually doing this. But even if it is a lot, I have news: Teenagers do bad things, and they always have. They bully each other and they always have, and cell phones and the Internet simply make it easier. Why is everyone treating “sexting” (which, I guarantee you no self-respecting teen actually calls it that) like something totally out of left field?
In an ideal world, it wouldn’t be happening at all. As this story makes evident, kids can’t handle nude pictures of each other responsibly. But the endless hand-wringing about this is getting tired. It makes our society’s generation gap seem positively extreme. Have all adults totally forgotten what it’s like to be a teenager? Have kids really become that much more sadistic in the years since I’ve been out of middle school? Jesus. Everyone under the age of 18 should be sent off to a peaceful farm somewhere to wait it out.