Thanks to Anthony Weiner, the topic of sexting has (hopefully) become regular dinner table talk among family members across the nation. However, the problems of sexting are not segregated to just the Weiner household. It doesn’t take much more than a click of a button for a nude or sexually explicit photo to be sent via text message. But the results of such an action leaves that photo out there for more than must the recipient to be able to see. Those photos can be passed around friends, and even sent to strangers. And a nude photo that is sent to another person’s cell phone can circulate for, well, forever, and can ruin a person’s life.
Our state of California is especially concerned with the rising epidemic of sexting that is going on between middle school and high school students. It has been reported that one in five California teens have sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures and video online. While most adults are aware that sending a photo of a naked body part will surely end up on the internet or circulated among friends, teens aren’t concerned about such dangers, or even understand what the aftermath of such an action would be like. And now, beyond the embarrassment of sending a nude text photo, a teen could become expelled from school.
Senator Ted Leiu introduced bill SB919 that unanimously passed on the Senate floor that will enforce expulsion if any student is caught sending or receiving a text with a sexually explicit or nude photo or video. However, it isn’t clear whether a student will be expelled for sexting photos that are not their own, or where the sexting occurred (as in on or off school grounds).
I’m not so sure I agree with the idea of expulsion across the board for sexting. If it’s true that one in 5 students are guilty of sending or receiving nude photos, than expulsion would have 20% of our teens kicked out of school. How will this be enforced if, say, 20 people pass around the same photo? Will all of them be expelled? While I do agree that some sort of punishment needs to be put in place for those who are targeting someone by sending their nude or semi-nude photo around, there are just too many shades of gray. And while malice does surely take place in some instances of sexting, the biggest culprit in a video or photo placed in public hands is generally from lack of common sense – more a reason to educate rather than punish.
This is why, more than expulsion, we need to teach kids about the implications of sending nude photos to other people. But how does a parent bring this up to their teens? An easy way is to talk about the issues going on in the news. Discuss the shame that Anthony Weiner is now facing in his career, let alone how it has affected his marriage. Talk about how the video Paris Hilton created with her ex-boyfriend is now all over the internet, and how she now regrets it amid legal action concerning the tape, as well as feeling betrayed by someone who once loved her. Talk about how Brett Favre is now paying for the nude photos he repeatedly sent of himself to a NY Jets reporter – how many will always remember him for those photos rather than his football career. Have an open discussion about what these public figures are facing now that those photos and videos have circulated for everyone else to see, and the embarrassment they are surely feeling now. And have your kids think about what it would be like if their teachers came across those photos, their parents or grandparents, people they don’t know at school, or even those they DO know.
What’s your take? Would it actually be better if schools crack down even more heavily on those caught sexting?