Teen Texting + Sexting=Perplexing

Man, I’d hate to be a teenager today.

From Sunday’s Boston Globe front page:

Connected, exhausted

Texting teenagers who stay ‘on call’ all night pay the price in lost sleep

Brookline 10th-grader Ashley Olafsson sleeps with her cellphone under her pillow so she doesn’t miss “emergency’’ texts — “like if a friend broke up with her boyfriend.’’ Stephanie Kimball of Waltham, 14, is also available for urgent overnight correspondence, such as, “Hey, seeing if you’re awake.’’ Dedham ninth-grader Courtney Johnson gets as many as 100 texts while in bed. “I just don’t feel like myself if I don’t have my phone near me or I’m not on it,’’ she said.

Sure, all that middle-of-the-night communication leaves them tired, but as Olafsson explained, “It’s impolite not to respond if someone is coming to you with their problems.’’

Which apparently happens all the time, since teenagers sent and received “an average of 3,276 texts per month in the last quarter of 2010, according to the most recent statistics from the Nielsen Co.”

And that leads to this:

[M]any teens said feeling popular and connected to friends is more important than a good night’s rest.

“When I’m texting someone I don’t feel alone,’’ said A.J. Shaughnessy, a ninth-grader at Boston College High School. “When you don’t have your phone, you feel incomplete.’’

That’s just sad.

Even sadder, though, is this front-page piece in Sunday’s New York Times:

A Girl’s Nude Photo, and Altered Lives

LACEY, Wash. — One day last winter Margarite posed naked before her bathroom mirror, held up her cellphone and took a picture. Then she sent the full-length frontal photo to Isaiah, her new boyfriend.

Both were in eighth grade.

They broke up soon after. A few weeks later, Isaiah forwarded the photo to another eighth-grade girl, once a friend of Margarite’s. Around 11 o’clock at night, that girl slapped a text message on it.

“Ho Alert!” she typed. “If you think this girl is a whore, then text this to all your friends.” Then she clicked open the long list of contacts on her phone and pressed “send.”

In less than 24 hours, the effect was as if Margarite, 14, had sauntered naked down the hallways of the four middle schools in this racially and economically diverse suburb of the state capital, Olympia. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of students had received her photo and forwarded it.

And it just gets worse from there in this staggeringly detailed report.

CORRECTION: Man, I’d hate to be the parent of a teenager today.

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3 Responses to Teen Texting + Sexting=Perplexing

  1. Michael Pahre says:

    Sleeping with a phone under your pillow? Answering it at any and all hours?

    The solution is easy: phones off at 11 pm – 6 am. Period. House rule. Kid’s friends learn that it’s a house rule and don’t bother her any more at those late hours. Parents who can’t lay a simple ground rule like that will get what they deserve out of their kids.

    Sexting is a much more difficult problem. Try buying a new phone without a built-in camera — or, for that new phone with a camera, have an OS that can be configured to block sending images, or buying a wireless plan that allows texting but not sending images. Possible, but unusual. Parental control locks in software are what it will take in order to address sexting; phone manufacturers who don’t provide parental controls should be pressured into doing so.

    But this begs a more fundamental question: Since digital cameras have been around for many years, why is it that kids seem so totally willing to take naked pictures of themselves with a cellphone camera, and distribute them to a friend or two, than they are with their digital camera? What about the cellphone camera, compared to a digital camera, pushes so many kids to cross that privacy boundary?

    Oh, and one more point: those kids who redistributed the naked image of the 14-year-old have legally committed distribution of child pornography. People have been, are are being, prosecuted around the country for child pornography for image sexting.

    • arafat kazi says:

      Playing devil’s advocate:

      Kids that can’t subvert a simple rule like that deserve to not be part of their social networks.

      The world’s most advanced consumer electronics company can’t manage to keep people from jailbreaking iOS and you want parents to enforce that?
      Or try finding a cameraless phone. I tried finding one for my father and ended up having to settle for telling him “just don’t worry about it.” (He does not sext.)

      Same thing that drove Victorians to prostitutes and Archie & Veronica to making out in Pop Tate’s Chock’lit Shoppe. Young lust. It’s a more powerful force than Flex Plexico’s Sex Textaco!!!!!!!

      My personal belief about this (which I don’t know if it’s right or universal) is that lust is pretty universal. I was going to start talking about teen pregnancy and how it’s become more socially acceptable for teenage mothers to have their children out of wedlock without giving it up for adoption/abortion/marriage. And I do think that more boundaries are being crossed every day.

      When I was in college ten years ago, I was excited because I knew a girl who modelled on a nude pinup (no hardcore) site. It was uncommon. She was considered to be worldly and wise, like a lady from a Kingsley Amis novel who talked about Camus and smoked many cigarettes. (That’s how I imagine Nina Hartley is.) Nowadays high school kids are doing it. Maybe ten years later the new thing will be sharing hardcore videos. Who knows?

      It bothers me a lot these days because my little baby cousins are now college age and I am horrified to think of them going out into a world as naked with lust as this one. But acceptability is always a moving target and we have to adapt to changing mindsets or get left behind.

      Finally: I don’t know if every 14 year old who forwards a naked picture of her or his classmate is going to get nabbed for CP. I’m sure there are cases of that happening, but I hope and pray that the FBI has the brains to go after actual CP distributors and pedophiles than waste their resources on this.

    • arafat kazi says:

      err the parts where I quoted your post didn’t show up, but I’m sure you can figure out what I’m responding to.

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