Teens share risky photos online

Finally! Researchers are starting to catch on to what teens are doing online! The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy released its findings on the sharing of photos online and reveal that 22 percent of all teen girls say they have electronically sent, or posted online, nude or semi-nude images of themselves.

Although not surprising, this next statistic is the one that should make teens think: One-third of teen boys and one-quarter of teen girls say they have had nude/semi-nude images — originally meant to be private — shared with them. The message? If you send it out, others will see it — and you can’t control who those others are.

It’s hard for a teen to imagine that their situation is just like any other. They want to believe that they can trust their friends and/or partners to not pass on things meant for their eyes only. But the reality is, is that teens like to be a part of things — and those things sometimes include gossip and what they consider “fun.” Just as a teen may be all-too-quick to think it’s a good idea to flash for the camera, another teen sees only the good in passing that photo onto others as they hastily hit the “forward” button.

Yet another call for electronic media literacy.

You can read the full report Sex and Tech here. But you can bet I will be spending more time talking about the results soon!

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Children "harming" themselves

Another story about youth sending naked pictures of themselves to each other through their cell phones. This one is a little different because it involves middle school students (6th and 7th graders) instead of the usual “barely legal” kids that are getting caught. The charge against them was also interesting; each of the four youth (two boys, two girls) were charged with possessing “material harmful to minors,” a misdemeanor. Though much better than slapping these young persons with child pornography charges (a felony subject to resulting in sex offender registration), the phrasing of the law is rather striking here. Images of their bodies are harmful to themselves? Or, taken in a more adolescent egocentric way “a picture of my body can cause harm to my friend? I didn’t think I looked that bad…”

I understand when laws are in place to prevent such picture sharing when the goal is to protect youth from the potential mass distribution of a photo they only meant their current sweetie/crush/lust object to see. But to charge them with possessing a picture that would harm them in some way? That to me seems a bit odd, disconcerting, and potentially backfiring:
“Why was I arrested, officer?”
“Because you had in your possession some pictures that can cause you harm.”
“But that’s a picture of my girlfriend. I think she is beautiful. I dig her.”
OR
“You mean that a picture of me naked might mess someone up?”

You can see where unhealthy lessons about sexuality and body image can easily be the take home messages here.

Crimes against "children" by "children"

Another news feature on youth distributing racy pictures of themselves that are legally considered pornography. This story is based out of Southwest Florida, where Lieutenant Tom Smith of Collier County’s Child Sex Crime Unity is quoted as saying: “We’ve had 5-6 cases in the past six months where kids have been taking photos of themselves or friends engaged in sexual activity.”

As with all these stories, the solution seems to be to talk with your kids about the ramifications of doing this. More superficial advice comes from the expert on teen internet use, Dr. Russ Sabella: “Consider giving them a cell phone with limited capabilities. Why do they need video recording capabilities on their cell phones anyway?” He also states that motivations for sending these pictures include wanting to mimic celebrity sex tapes.

I think getting behind youth motivation to send these pictures is key. If it is to imitate the celebs, then warning them about mass distribution of the photos would be a bad strategy (instead, it might be wiser to talk about the criminality of the act). If the goal for taking the picture is to impress a crush, better relationship education may be in order. If the reason is to get back at someone, we need to think about netiquette, cyberbullying prevention efforts, and empathy raising. But we won’t know until we ask.

Hockey!

I am a huge hockey fan, so the fact that I can justify writing about something related to the sport is pretty damn cool in my eyes. Poor Jiri Tlusty; he’s just a 19-year-old youth — who happens to be a forward for the Toronto Maple Leafs (think being a Yankee for the same level of publicity and scrutiny). He posted some “racy” photos of himself on his Facebook page, and one of them made it to the front page of the Toronto Sun (think NY Daily News). I had to get this story from ABC because The Sun wants $15 for the story online and I’m cheap.

The pictures were apparently taken using his cell phone while he was home in the Czech Republic.

"The Truth About Tweens"

According to a story in the British newspaper “The Independent,” a new research study conducted by Dr. Joan Atwood reveals that 10% of girls between the ages of 8-13 had been asked intimate sexual questions in chatrooms and more than a third have had sexually explicit messages, photos and/or videos on their phones.

The study involved youth from Britain, Canada, Australia, and the US who were recruited in chatrooms. It appears to be the first study that asks younger girls about sex-related activities online.

Two things about this study come to mind. First, it was not conducted in the US. This is most likely because the US is not willing to consider the fact that children not even into their teens are being exposed to sexual messages to the extent that they are.
Second, playing off this theme of denial, this story was not reported in any US-based publication that I am aware of (I subscibe to several news alerts and like to think I scan the Internet extensively, actively seeking this information). It appears that no news is good news.
We can only hope that our country will be able to investigate issues such as these from a national perspective. There is no use pretending young people are not exposed to sexual material — there is no pretending that young people are not the creators of this sexual material. But how will we know what is really going on if we are not allowed to ask?