Give Them Credit, Give Them Support

A recent article in the New York Times appears to uncover how the internet is impacting middle school romances. Through interviews with some young New Yorkers (note the limited representation), it attempts to reveal how sexting and easy access to porn are shaping how these youth relate to each other, their bodies, and their friends.

I always find these articles fascinating, and usually respect their content — the Times often tackles an issue related to youth development more in-depth and responsibly than most other news outlets. And for that I am grateful.

However, this time the article goes a little too far in the alarmist direction for my taste. First, let’s take the illustrations. Though clearly meant to show what girls are doing these days, they do little more than glamorize the very pictures is admonishes. Second, the article quotes the “statistic” that the average age of first exposure to online porn is 11 — and doesn’t cite the source. Probably because that statistic has long ago been criticized as being total bunk by highly reputable sources.

But mostly, this article bothers me because it simply presents problems (scandals, even) without offering any solutions. Yes, it may be true (we don’t have evidence, but it does make sense to believe) that higher access to pornography might create an inaccurate sense of what actual sex is supposed to be like — but what should we do about it? Can we have intelligent conversations with girls AND boys about how pornography depicts unrealistic expectations of sex in a classroom? At an after school program? Among family members? And yes — oftentimes the content of cyberbullying focuses on sexual rumor (just like gossip and bathroom wall graffiti in earlier times) — so why can’t we incorporate lessons on cyberbullying in a sex education classroom? And where is the dialog about healthy relationships? It’s missing from most of our lives.

To the author’s credit, the article does portray girls as having common sense to assess what is right and wrong to do both online and with a boyfriend, and as having a great deal of strength to fight the pressure they feel to sexualize themselves in ways they do not feel comfortable. So, let’s give these savvy youth a chance to educate themselves further and critically analyze today’s influences on their sex lives so that they embody healthy messages about their own sexual expression and relationships, and pass them on to their peers and partners.

CORRECTION: I misattributed this article to the NYT — It’s actually from New York Magazine. Big difference, and I apologize for the error. It does help explain the tone of the article, though!

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