The Age of ‘Not-So’ Innocence: Why Teen Sexting Has Become Epidemic

By Debby Shulman

Here we are, at the start of another school year and already a serious case of SEXTING has created alarming turmoil and concern at a very prestigious suburban high school. Emails were sent home to the entire parent community and the administration is actively working with the local police, all to no avail. This community is no different than mine or yours … except for the fact that teens were caught sending candid photos of scantily-clad, barely-dressed classmates that spread like wildfire. Some photos were intentional, some taken secretly without the victim’s consent, but all with the same horrific result: to destroy, embarrass and humiliate.

SEXTING remains the most repulsive and disturbing repercussion of this iGeneration to date.

As if the porn magazines of our teenhood could even touch this so-called Sexidemic. Today’s SEXTING is the result of a generation of teens too savvy, too exposed and too immature to handle the technology that has impacted their lives in many ways.

And it is everywhere. It remains an issue in every high school, here and abroad – regardless of wealth, location or race.  None of us should be naïve enough to believe that our youngest teens have not been exposed to the sadly inappropriate images in a sext. Trust me, they have. And they are sent, I believe, with intention in one of two ways: a photo that represents a young teen mistakenly believing he or she will win the heart of the recipient with a salacious, pornographic ‘selfie’ offering a glimpse of what both parties are too young to understand … or the secret, troubling picture of a subject completely oblivious to the photo being taken without knowledge or consent.

And once the photo is Out There, as we all know, it’s gone, into “Forever” — where the iGeneration has no idea how to conceptualize the vulnerability of what Forever even feels like.

But whether it’s in Winnetka or Wichita, the prevalence of SEXTING among teenagers has become an outrageously serious and dangerous practice that is more widespread than we can possibly imagine.

 How did we get here?  And WHEN did our teenagers become so morally desensitized that they turned to unthinkable cruelty?

The brutality of our teens’ generation and the lack of integrity this technology encourages continues to breed because none of us – anywhere – have figured out a way to put a stop to it.

And that’s the truth. We cannot control this rampant epidemic; we can only catch it long after hundreds of kids have heard the telltale beep and opened a text that displayed the ultimate demise of someone they hardly know. Talk about innocence lost.

I have no solutions – if local police are involved then we know it’s reached dangerous proportions few of us can imagine. Quite frankly, I’m not sure I can even go there … I can barely stomach a conversation of why cleavage has no place in high school.

We all know our teens have been exposed over and over again to the Anthony Weiner and Kardashian-esque era of using a body part as the subject of a text. Surely Kim Kardashian’s infamous sex tape garnered the attention of millions, leaving many teens with the sad impression that posing publicly, via text or otherwise, leads to popularity.

To think anyone I love or care about – my children, my friends’ children – would feel so awful about themselves that they would succumb to such self-deprecating behavior is something all of us have to contemplate.

The “Look At Me” mindset that has attached itself to our teen’s generation starts the minute they get that coveted phone. Quite frankly, the list of topics to chat about when it finally ends up in their hands is becoming endless. And yet here we are, once again, offering up ways to quickly offset what may be brewing in your children’s minds … and I think watching what they post, put on Instagram and tweet is still something that may offer a window into whether or not they might be SEXTING too. Here’s what to look for and what you can do:

1)   GO WITH YOUR GUT:  If you see pictures on Instagram that show intimate behavior between your teen and a partner, it might be time to talk about the sext.  Let’s be forthright and honest: Have you sent pictures of yourself you would not want ME to see?  And if so, time to stop.

2)   BE FIRM: We pay for your cell phone and you are NOT permitted to send pictures of yourself or keep naked images on your phone from anyone. If caught, say goodbye to the phone.

3)   COMMIT TO A HIGHER MORAL STANDARD Do you know what it means to receive a text and send it on? If, God forbid, you receive a text that offers an image you KNOW is inappropriate; you have a MORAL AND ETHICAL OBLIGATION TO DELETE IT.  As far as teen development goes, I would venture a guess that now is a good time to explore the integrity chapter of child raising.

4)   CALL TO ACTION: We have to empower our teens to tell an adult. If, in fact, they receive a sext through a massive forwarding … instill in them the obvious necessity to tell an adult (without fear of being ratted out) so that it will be addressed through the proper channels.

5)   GET HELP: Teens who intentionally send and post sexual images of themselves are seeking attention through dangerous means. If you find your teen engaging in sextual behavior, that is a cry for help.  Honor them with love and guidance by getting them into therapy.

Our teens literally have the world at their fingertips. They can download porn during Calculus if they so choose. Helping them understand the emotional and long-term endangerment of using technology in this capacity is mournfully part of Parenting Our Teens … there is no end in sight as to what more is coming down this treacherous path of technological exploitation.

I feel for those parents in my neighboring community who must open their email daily to find updates on police investigations and school suspensions.  Nobody is immune; this is everywhere. Together, we MUST find a way to stop it.

Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: Debby Shulman is a college essay consultant and academic tutor with a private practice in Northbrook, Illinois.  She also professionally collaborates with Amy Simon College Consulting in Bannockburn, Illinois.  Debby also blogs about Motherhood/Teen issues for Your Teen magazine (www.yourteenmag.com). Check out her valuable advice. 

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