Sexting: Irresponsible at Seventeen Magazine
[By L.R.Knost, author of Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages, Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood, and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]
In this digital era not only is the world available literally at our fingertips, but a whole new world has opened for predators, pedophiles, perverts, and porn purveyors to assault our children. From predators posing as children to draw children into online relationships and then lure them into real-life danger to pedophiles using the power and anonymity of the internet to traffic in child pornography, our children are at risk in ways that are increasingly difficult to monitor, filter, and protect them from. We are advised to supervise their online activities, but how are we to know that little twelve-year-old Patsy from piano class is actually fifty-year-old Patrick from prison or that fourteen-year-old Joey from the local gym is actually forty-eight-year-old Jimmy from the local jail?
Talking with our children about the dangers, staying in-tune with them so we recognize when they are stressed or feeling pressured or guilty, working on intentional connection and two-way communication so that our children feel safe and comfortable with us, and maintaining an open, non-judgmental relationship throughout their childhood so that they know they can come to us for help with anything, anytime, anywhere are all vital elements in keeping our children safe from adults who would do them harm.
But what about when it’s other children who are the danger? What about when they are violated by an in-real-life friend? Most of us have had the conversations about stranger-danger and friend-danger and good-touches and bad-touches and our children know what constitutes a personal violation in the physical sense, but do they know what constitutes a violation online and via text and Instagram and other digital media?
Children are increasingly becoming victims of virtual and visual sexual harassment by their own peers and are being bullied either into reciprocating and/or into silence. One such sexual victimization is called ‘sexting’ and has become a huge problem across cultural, ethnic, and gender boundaries. Sexting involves one party taking a graphically nude picture of themselves or of just specific body parts, and texting them to another party. These pictures sometimes get shared from one young person to the next, resulting in ruined reputations and often intense bullying. Children like thirteen-year-old Hope Witsell have been so viciously bullied and horribly humiliated that they have taken their young lives to escape the torture.
Released into this environment by Seventeen Magazine, whose target market is from tweens to teens (ages 12 to 19), is a recent article entitled “What’s with the Pics, Dude?” This incredibly irresponsible article about sexting portrays young males as hapless victims of their own sexual and approval needs and young females as those responsible for redirecting the young men into more appropriate behaviors. The young males are characterized as “needing reassurance that they are desirable” and “fishing for a compliment” and as “figuring you’ll be excited” and “hoping to start a game.” While the young females victimized by the sexting are warned that they may be in danger of ”trouble from the law” and that in order to “protect” themselves they should conceal the incident from their parents and from school officials. The damage done to a vulnerable girl who may be humiliated and frightened and looking for guidance as to how to handle the situation, but is told to hide it and to respond with a flirty response and a “cute selfie” instead of cutting off communications with the young man and seeking adult support is incalculable. And the danger the young lady is placed in, whether she may be intimidated into silence or pressured into reciprocation which may then put her in the situation faced by the young victims who committed suicide after their sexting pictures were shared, is very real.
I can only hope that parents are paying attention not only to their children’s online activities and digital interactions, but also to what they are reading so that they can filter the dangers and counteract the misinformation that abounds. Parents, your children have access to the internet, at home or the library or at school or at a friend’s house. And they have access to iPhones and other devices that can take, send, and receive pictures. Be aware. Be in-tune. Be intentional. Focus on maintaining your connection and keeping the lines of communication open. And don’t wait until your child brings these dangers to your attention. Bring them to theirs and let them know you are watching, and you’re available, and you are their safe place.
L.R.Knost is a best-selling parenting and children’s book author and founder and director of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, an online resource for gentle parenting education, articles, and research. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood , Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages , and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline the first three books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, as well as her children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series available from Amazon and other major retailers.