*What do you do if a group of teenage boys share a bunch of sexts sent to them by a bunch of teenage girls? If you are a high school in Liberty Missouri you suspend the boys and wag your finger at the girls.
Problem 1: By punishing the boys and not the girls you establish a double standard. Both groups of teenagers passed around of nude/semi-nude pictures but only the boys are suffering the consequences. Somehow if the roles were reversed and the girls were passing around pictures of boy bits, I don’t believe only the girls would be punished.
Problem 1A: There is a chance you are establishing/reinforcing another double standard. By admonishing the girls not to participate in these kinds of behaviors but not the boys, you are supporting the idea that female sexuality should be contained while male sexuality cannot be contained and therefore should be punished. And I am fully aware that some people in society do not find this to be a problem at all; I, on the other hand, would like people of both genders to be able to express and advocate for their sexuality with the belief that doing so leads to happier and stronger relationships and ultimately happier and stronger families.
Problem 2: it would appear the solution to problems 1 is to also punish the girls. Doing that would send the message that distribution, in any form, of sexts is unacceptable. Unfortunately that action sort of exacerbates problem 1A. By punishing the girls you still send the message that they are behaving wrongly; that they should not express their sexuality in this way.
Problem 3: Eliminating consequences altogether seems to send the message that sexting is OK. Furthermore it might send the message that distributing pictures of nude/semi-nude teenagers is OK. This leads us down the road of child pornography.
Allow me to address these issues.
First I would like to state clearly that I don’t want to see anyone exploited by anyone else. The reason there are laws against child pornography and sex with minors is because the law (correctly in most cases) assumes that someone older and with more life experience will be in a position to take advantage of someone younger and with less life experience. This isn’t really a ground breaking idea. Watch two siblings who are 14 and 6 play together and count how many times the 14 year old can persuade the 6 year old that the cool thing to do just happens to be the thing the 14 year old wants to do. This issue doesn’t go away when the ages are 15 and 23, probably not even 25 and 33. At some point though the younger person has had enough life experiences to more strongly advocate for themselves. Because this point comes after high school, I am alright drawing a line in the sand at 18 (or at whatever arbitrary age your state decided).
Having gotten that disclaimer out of the way let’s all admit that the rules should be a little different for students than they are for adults. If we’re being honest we would admit that the rules already are a little different for students than they are for adults. A fight might land two people in court and in jail for an extended period of time when both parties are 41, only gets both people suspended when both parties are 14. Because of this I think a little leeway should be given to students who find themselves in the position of having sent their junk in a text message.
Certainly age differences should be considered. The exploitation I described earlier could happen between a senior and freshman at the same high school. But there should be a way to consider if the people involved were dating, and/or of the similar age groups before determining if a punishment is justified instead of using a one size fits all approach.
Teenagers have always pushed the boundaries of what their elders thought was appropriate sexual conduct. In the 1900s it was girls working outside the home; in the 1920s it was riding in cars; in the 1950s it was drive-ins; in the 1990s it was phone sex on your own cell (I think – I couldn’t afford one). The ultimate takeaway from this situation should be that sexting is the newest way teenagers have sex. And adults should figure out how to adjust to this situation without overreacting.
My answer to the situation? Safer sex education. If we all thought that young people had a better idea of what they were getting into, wouldn’t we feel better about their activities? Don’t you think some of this would be avoided?
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.