Here’s a headline that stunned me earlier this month: Vermont Considers Legalizing Teen “Sexting.” No, that’s not a typo. Just as “texting”—sending a text message between cell phones—has become a vital part of communication, the practice known as “sexting” is a growing trend among young people. In short, sexting is an exchange of photos, usually sexually explicit, between cell phone users. Sexting sometimes involves sending a pornographic video to the recepient. Upwards of 20% of teens admit sexting.
That’s disturbing. But it gets worse.
Far too often the pictures and videos exchanged are images of the person sending the message. Earlier this year, for example, six high school students in Pennsylvania were arrested for sharing nude or semi-nude photos of themselves with classmates via cell phone. The three girls involved were ages 14 and 15; the boys were ages 16 and 17. They now face child pornography charges as well as the possibility of being required to register as sex offenders. If convicted, they’d be on the sex offender registry for a decade.
Which is why Vermont lawmakers are proposing a measure that is clearly not the solution. Earlier this month the Vermont state Senate passed a bill that would legalize all consensual exchanges of explicit images—as long as the participants are between ages 13 and 18, and, as long as they don’t pass the images to others. Sharing images beyond the original consenting children would remain a crime. The bill moves to the House Judiciary Committee for further review.
Pause for a moment.
The lawmakers either don’t want—or don’t think—they can outlaw the practice of sexting among minors so they, in turn, want to legalize it. Presto! The problem is gone. That’s the same reasoning used by the proponents of legalizing marijuana: since we can’t stop drug use, they argue, let’s just legalize the mind-altering substance. But if informed adults agree that drugs and pornography are harmful to society, legalizing their usage is a flawed approach at best.
A final thought.
It’s a fair question to ask, “Where are the parents?”
If a parent is going to provide their teens with a cell phone—and, no doubt, most parents foot the bill—it goes without saying that a parent should explain the risks and responsibilities that come with the privilege of having a cell phone. If not, we must be crazy to put into the hands of our children a tool that, if misused, could set them on a pathway of sexual addiction that might take years, if not a lifetime, to recover from.
For instance, what a young person may not realize—and what a parent should make crystal clear—is that any compromising photo taken of them will never go away. Years later those images may be floating around the Internet and could compromise a future job opportunity, derail their career, or become an embarrassment to their children. There’s also the very real issue of sexual predators in whose hands their naked images may fall.
Have you had this “talk” with your teens?
By the way, I don’t believe prosecuting minors as sex offenders for sexting is necessarily wise. There’s got to be a better avenue to motivate youth to exercise discernment in this area other than going to jail. What about the use of positive peer pressure, nurturing self-respect, and the somewhat underrated virtue of modesty? If Mothers Against Drunk Driving could reverse the previously lax national attitude about drinking and driving, I’ve got to believe there’s a way to strip sexting of its place among teens.
I’d like to hear from you.
Do you agree with the bill in Vermont? If not, what solution to the problem of sexing would you propose?