Robert Mosolgo

Response to "Why Kids Sext"

The cover article of the November 2014 Atlantic Monthly told the story of sexting and police involvement in Louisa County, VA.

Sexting is not part of my life, but it’s part of our culture (if Snapchat’s $2 billion valuation shows anything). When we have kids of our own, I’d like to do a good job preparing them for the world they’re born into. If I’ve learned anything from my own life, that means instructing them regarding technology-powered sexual perils.

When I consider sexting, I have a few questions:

  • Why does it happen? Is it a new phenomenon or simply a new face for an old one?
  • Who is responsible? Who is involved and why do they do what they do?
  • What should we do? Is it bad? Should American adults take any action?

I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on those questions after reading The Atlantic’s “Why Kids Sext” (by Hanna Rosin).

Why does it happen?

The author provides several explanations:

Kids pressure one another.

When surveyed, by far the most common reason kids give for sexting is that their boyfriend or girlfriend wanted the picture… Englander singles out a distinct minority (12 percent) she calls the “pressured sexters,” who say they sexted only because they felt pressure. These girls are more vulnerable. They tend to … sext because they think they can get a boyfriend…

A sad part for me is the role of the boys/young men:

This is how one of them described his game to me: “A lot of girls, they stubborn, so you gotta work on them. You say, ‘I’m trying to get serious with you.’ You call them beautiful. You say, ‘You know I love you.’ You think about it at night, and then you wake up in the morning and you got a picture in your phone.”

People want to be loved and they want to have intimate relationships. It’s very sad when that desire is exploited!

Sexting is their only option for intimacy.

I actually beleive that all humans (even mean ones) desire to be known deeply and loved by other humans.

“I live literally in the middle of nowhere, … parents weren’t going to drop me off … Our only way of being alone was to do it over the phone. It was a way of kind of dating without getting in trouble. A way of being sexual without being sexual, you know? And it was his way of showing he liked me a lot and my way of saying I trusted him.”

Again, you can hear the desire for intimacy (people equate sex with intimacy).

The kids in Louisa County, like kids everywhere, are chronically overscheduled… Nighttime is the only time teens get to have intimate conversations and freely navigate their social world… [T]hat means checking up on the latest drama on Twitter…, filling up their Instagram accounts, or asking a girl for a pic.

Sometimes you hear the joke about hobbies “keeping {someone} off the street.” Apparently you can’t steamroll the desire for for social interaction out of a child!

Who is responsible?

I see a few different players in this scene:

  • askers: those who request sexts
  • senders: those who comply with requests (or send unsolicited)
  • “The system”: schools, goverments, technology, etc
  • parents

Is it the askers?

Writ large, there are two kinds of “asks”: those from uninvolved parties and those from “committed” parters.

“Guys would pile them up,” one girl who had graduated a year earlier told me…. “It was more of a baseball-card, showing-off kind of thing… like when they were little boys, playing with Pokémon cards.”

In the first case, it’s (apparently) a matter of dominion – another manifestation of treating females objects to obtain. Nothing new, but shows how far we’ve come. (Which is: nowhere).

In the vast majority of cases, the picture lands only where it was meant to… “The only reason to regret it is if you get caught,” one girl told me.

This article assumes that sexting a “committed partner” is OK. Protip: you’ll probably break up with high-school boyfriend.

When people are seen naked, they feel ashamed. When you ask for a naked picture, you’re now toying with that person’s dignity. Not OK. (But to be fair, most people don’t know that.)

Is it the senders?

This article doesn’t paint the senders as passive victims. It uses phrases like “sexual experimenters.”

Seems to me that the senders are pursuing intimacy in an unproductive way. They long to be known and accepted, but they’re left with regret. Whether external (exposé) or internal (guilt & shame), they might feel repercussions of their actions, which is always sad.

Is it “the system?”

I believe that the system is the sum of its parts. If society members behaved, the system would function. If the system is broken, look to the society members. So, the answer to this question is just the sum of the other answers. Moving on.

Is it the parents?

Parents are notably absent in this article. They appear a few times:

  • shaming a child caught sexting
  • one bit of advice for parents understanding social media

That’s pretty much it.

It’s ironic that we pair the “cult of parenthood” with a growing distaste for instructing children (or rather, relegating instruction to non-parents).

This article describes in detail how lawyers, police officers, researchers and children cope with sexting, but makes very little mention of parents. I don’t think it’s a lack of focus in this article; I think it’s a lack of focus in our culture. In fact, the article describes a sexting education meeting in Louisa County. Only “about a dozen” people attended.

What should we do?

Teens in Louisa County, like teens everywhere, hear a lot about sex, but really know only a little about it.

My instinct for solving this problem (like my instinct for solving all problems :S ) is to create & disseminate knowledge. Obviously, I can’t say “Why don’t you people teach your kids right about sex?” becuase I haven’t done it. But I hope to get up the nerve by the time my turn comes:

  • We all want to be known and loved by others; it’s a very powerful desire.
  • To be seen naked is to be known. I can’t explain it, but it’s an old truth. It’s why we wear clothes even when it’s hot outside. It’s why certain combinations of attire (or lack thereof) are inappropriate in public. It’s why you have bad dreams of leaving your pants at home.
  • To be known but not loved is brutal: you’re stripped bare but not embraced. I imagine that’s the feeling when naked pictures become public (cf. “L’enfer, c’est les autres”, “Gaze”).
  • Similarly, to be loved but not known is hollow: a relationship based on mutual pride-appeasing may provide tastes of intimacy but it is not intimacy. Eyelash-batting will wear off and you’re realize you never actually loved the other. You loved being admired by the other.
  • When you’re married, you’re known by your spouse. If your spouse keeps his or her vows, you’ll also be loved. Marriage is a place where humans can be fully known and fully loved without fear of abandonment. Certainly loving the “stranger you’re married to” is hard, but you’re not likely count your spouse like a baseball card.

I appreciated the advice included in this article:

Boyd advises parents not to, for example, shut down accounts…Instead, parents should take a deep breath—even in the most uncomfortable scenarios—and ask questions.

I guess this is it: in my youth, internet pornography was the new menace that nobody warned us about & we all fell prey to (indirectly, if not directly). What will it be for my children?