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Archive for Monday, March 5, 2012

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Double Take: Sexting now may turn into scandal later

March 5, 2012

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Dr. Wes: One might think it unwise in the current political climate to run as a Republican for Congress and be (a) gay; (b) dating an undocumented worker; and (c) sending explicit photos of yourself so engaged.

Yet that’s exactly what Arizona’s Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu did. He’s now stepped down as a volunteer for Mitt Romney to defend himself against allegations that he threatened to deport his Mexican paramour if he let the story slip.

Anthony Weiner, a Democrat from New York with a similar sexting problem, ended up out of a job, so foolishness knows no political bounds.

Apparently, neither Babeu nor Weiner read Double Take. If they did they’d have thought this through a little better, just as we’ve tried to do here since cameras became attached to cellphones, thereby creating tiny TV studios in everyone’s pocket.

It’s a silly state of affairs when we expect teenagers to have better ethics and personal conduct than the adults around them, particularly national figures who hold themselves out as visionaries for our country. Yet these dumb examples offer a unique opportunity to sit down with teens — who are, as a matter of neurology, less thoughtful of consequence — and discuss how easy it is now to send one’s moment of poor judgment all around the world.

In that discussion, parents might want to quote Sheriff Babeu, explaining that he sent these photos “to an individual that was meant only for their observation, not meant to be splashed on the Internet or TV, and there still needs to be some balance for privacy.”

Uh huh. I’ve heard that one quite a few times, usually from 16-year-olds who, shortly after a break-up, realized that their one true love has a hidden mean streak. One click, privacy vanishes. Welcome to the 21st century.

This little news item prompted me to ask my network of teens where they now stand on the whole issue of sexting.

While opinions differ, the consensus is that text-based sexting is now so common that it’s considered “no thing.” It’s just a different way of saying the same explicit things kids have said verbally for years.

And the fact that it leaves a permanent electronic trail? That seems both well known and strangely unimportant.

Even more surprising in my teen sample was the way homemade sexual images are now perceived. One teen told me, “If a picture of someone gets out, it’s not really considered that big a deal. Basically I’d just say, ‘That’s really immature that you have that picture of me on your phone, when it’s not yours.’”

Sorry, kids, it is a big deal to make those images, to keep them and to transmit them. If it’s not bad enough that your parents may come upon them now, or your own kids in 20 years, remember that explicit images of minors are, by legal definition, child pornography. It may sound like a fun way to share your love with your partner, but ask Sheriff Babeu and former U.S. Rep. Weiner how well that turned out.

Miranda: I remember the first time I begged my parents for unlimited texting. I was in junior high, and they said, “No. You’re too young.”

I look back now realizing how silly I was and laugh, yet I’ve always wondered what the effect will be on kids younger than me growing up immersed in technology. We are the “guinea pig” generation for many social technologies like Twitter, Facebook and texting. Where will they lead us?

As Wes points out, the biggest problem with being early adopters is that we can’t seem to understand that anything you send, good or bad, remains on the Internet or someone’s server or hard drive forever.

In my opinion, the worst-case scenario is sexting. Countless times a good politician or other public figure is destroyed by a high-tech scandal.

So, heed our warning one more time readers, young and old: Don’t EVER send pictures of yourself though your phone or on the Internet to anyone. If the photos get out, this can be damaging for your reputation and your self-esteem.

While teenage boy A may promise to never show anyone those shots, with one swift click he can send it to teenage boys B, C and D. Then your private body becomes open for public discussion, as you are literally exposed to the student body.

By the time you graduate high school, you’ll know at least one girl who’s made this mistake. That sad truth is one of the prices people pay for hitting send before thinking about the consequences.

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