Teen Girl Panel: "Sexting" Panic Is Overblown

After the recent spate of "sky is falling"-style reactions to the alleged "epidemic" of (sorry) "sexting" and its fearsome consequences, I was really eager to hear from actual teenagers for a change.

The odd thing about media blitzes like the 11 o'clock news furor surrounding teens exchanging sexually-charged texts and pictures is that they treat teenagers with an anthropological remove that seems laughable. The coverage I've seen has involved a lot of adults prodding students to claim a phenomenon is taking over their lives, when in fact it's one (small) element in existences as complicated and multifaceted as anyone else's. While a study says that an alarmingly high number of teens - one teen in five reporting he or she has sent or posted naked photos of himself or herself - have fallen prey to the phenomenon, was it really the sinister force adults claim? Having become aware of Red, a book in which teenage girls from a variety of places and backgrounds write intelligently about issues close to their hearts, I thought it would be interesting to query some of them them about the "sexting" panic. Which, from what they said, doesn't really impact them.

The vast majority of the girls we polled said they had no experience with "sexting," and were hardly aware of it until The Media caught on. Says 16-year-old Sarah Schelde from upstate New York,

Sure I've heard about it before; from Hollywood. The infamous 'Vanessa Hudgens sends Zac Efron racy pics' was a big thing, especially since she's a celeb whose fans are mostly kids. Even Miley, someone two weeks younger than me, has come under fire for racy pics, but it isn't something I've seen personally.

Adds Jocelyn Pearce, 17, North Carolina

It's overblown. People make stupid choices sometimes, regardless of age or technology used. If a girl is sending naked pictures of herself around, it's not a very good idea, to say the least. They could end up in the inboxes of people you really don't want to share with. It's definitely something that could end up being a huge regret after a breakup ...Embarrass the kids involved enough so that they won't do it again, but long-lasting, harsh consequences like being added to a sex offender registry (which can impact where you can live, where you can work, and just how people view you in the future) are beyond unnecessary.

Says Jordyn Turney,

It's kind of like how when I was in fifth grade we went through the DARE program that was supposed to teach us about the harms of drugs. By the end of fifth grade all the adults had made it seem like the world was a battlefield of drugs and as soon as we stepped into junior high we would have seedy older kids asking us to do drugs. It didn't happen that way. A lot of kids did (and still do) drugs, but the you-will-be-left-out-if-you-don't-do-drugs scare message wasn't all that true.

And for the one person who actually had first-hand experience with the phenom, it was hardly the end of her world. Says Californian Dani Cox,

I recently went through a situation where I was pressured to take part in this act and, when I didn't, was sent pictures of places I didn't really want to see. Instead of freaking out about it, giving in to their request, or ignoring it, I decided to talk to my parents and together we agreed that it would be best to inform his parents and allow them to handle the situation without getting the authorities involved. They main reason we decided on this was because I knew this person very well and knew that they had simply just made a stupid mistake and allowed their hormones to get the best of them. I didn't want to put that person in the situation of having "sex offender" labeled to his name for this one action. Plus, not only would he be prosecuted, but I would as well for simply having it on my phone! Then, if I had decided to get nasty with it and spread the pictures around, all those people I sent it to and everyone who they sent it to would ALSO be prosecuted as a sex offender. RIDICULOUS! Teens don't really understand how truly big of a mess this is until they are caught up in the middle of it. I can see how someone could take it over the edge and make sexting into a sexual harassment issue...and then maybe something should be in place after warnings to stop are not heeded. And if you make it a child porn issue...it's hard to get my head around the fact that your making the victim the criminal. Yet, in that gray area between hormones jumping and criminal intent...the concept of sexting is not necessarily as bad as the connotation it gives.

Thanks, ladies. You're tremendously reassuring - not that my local news anchor would probably agree.

Teens, Nude Photos And The Law [Newsweek]
"Sexting" Shockingly Common Among Teens [CBS]
Red The Book