Schumann: What to do about kids sexting?

Blog Contributor

The Atlantic, along with NPR have both vocalized their opinions on a controversial sexting scandal involving high schoolers in Virginia. NPR has the courtesy not to attempt to explain the “causes.” but naturally Hanna Rosin at The Atlantic can’t resist the opportunity. The incident came to light when several naked photos of minors showed up on Instagram, prompting a police investigation, a bunch of smartphones taken from kids, and a pile of aimless ambiguity.

After a week’s immersive education on the subject, Donald Lowe found himself just where the rest of the nation’s law-enforcement community—and much of the nation—is on the subject of teen sexting: totally confused. Were the girls being exploited? Or were they just experimenting? Was sexting harming the kids? And if so, why didn’t they seem to care? An older man with whom Lowe was acquainted stopped him at the grocery store to tell him, “That’s child porn, and you ought to lock those people up for a long time.” But Lowe didn’t want to charge kids “just for being stupid,” he told me later. “We don’t want to label them as child molesters.” “

I see.

There’s another few paragraphs with useless statistics and unfounded opinions, followed by this:

“Since 2009, state legislatures have tried to help guide law enforcement by passing laws specifically addressing sexting. At least 20 states have passed such laws, most of which establish a series of relatively light penalties. In Florida, for example, a minor who is guilty of transmitting or distributing a nude photograph or video must pay a fine, complete community service, or attend a class on sexting. A second offense is a misdemeanor and a third is a felony. Where they’ve been passed, the new laws have helpfully taken ordinary teen sexting out of the realm of child pornography and provided prosecutors with a gentler alternative. But they have also created deeper cultural confusion, by codifying into law the idea that any kind of sexting between minors is a crime. For the most part, the laws do not concern themselves with whether a sext was voluntarily shared between two people who had been dating for a year or was sent under pressure: a sext is a sext. So as it stands now, in most states it is perfectly legal for two 16-year-olds to have sex. But if they take pictures, it’s a matter for the police.”

Which also begs the question: if sexted underage photos never get seen by an adult, are they still considered child porn?
Was this issue an issue before it went public?

Knock yourselves out with this one:

“Virginia is not one of the states that has passed specific teen-sexting laws, and so Major Lowe was looking, potentially, at hundreds of felonies. Every boy who had a photo on his phone, every girl who’d snapped one of herself—all could be prosecuted as felons and sex offenders.”

“Studies on high-school kids’ general attitudes about sexting turn up what you’d expect—that is, the practice inspires a maddening, ancient, crude double standard. Researchers from the University of Michigan recently surveyed a few dozen teenagers in urban areas. Boys reported receiving sexts from girls “I know I can get it from” and said that sexting is “common only for girls with slut reputations.” But the boys also said that girls who don’t sext are “stuck up” or “prude.” The boys themselves, on the other hand, were largely immune from criticism, whether they sexted or not.

Sometimes in Louisa County, between interviews, I hung out with a group of 15-year-old boys who went to the library after school. They seemed like good kids who studied, played football, and occasionally got into fights, but no more than most boys. They’d watch videos of rappers from the area and talk about rumors in the rap world, like the one that the Chicago rapper Chief Keef, a rival of D.C.’s Shy Glizzy, had gotten a middle-school girl pregnant. They’d order and split a pizza to pass the time while waiting for their parents to leave work and pick them up. I started to think of them as the high school’s Greek chorus because, while I recognized much of what they said as 15-year-old-boy swagger—designed to impress me and each other, and not necessarily true—they still channeled the local sentiment. 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.””

And this is the kids’ fault, right?

Where did they get these ideas, mannerisms, and procedures from?

There is absolutely a fix for this latest epidemic, several actually.

First you have to understand, as with every complex behavior across the population nothing will work reliably and consistently to quell it.

Make it illegal? Isn’t it already? How’s that working out? Didn’t all the officers involved voice concerns over prosecuting the kids for this? Why create laws you can’t (in good conscience) stand behind?

What about “raising awareness”?

Excellent idea, the four kids in Appalachia without smartphones will finally hear about the ‘epidemic’. To them: “cool” kids in “real” places are doing it, I want to be like them, therefore I do it. Nice job.

Also, articles showing how awful the behavior is give it a dark spin that in turn, make it more rebellious and more desirable to participate. Minor detail. I’d cite the efficacy of D.A.R.E here, but that’s low-hanging fruit.

But the readers need someone to confirm their biases, right?

You want to stop kids from sexting?

You have to deal with the problem on an individual level and cater the approach towards the individual, paying careful attention to their specific constitution and expressions regarding the motivation to participate. Naturally, fitting it and the High School social proof are motivation enough.

The only prevention on the individual level is to encourage them to stand above the influence as individuals, realize that such actions don’t lend themselves to any sort of legitimate intimacy, and are only opportunities to be exploited. Don’t want your child to be exploited? Give them some sort of Junior Machiavellian coaching, flip the script and teach them how to exploit.

In realizing this, they’ll easily understand the cons, games and scripts we all adopt, especially those used to exploit others. Sound sociopathic? I could see that. I’m not a psychiatrist. Also, I drink.

But that’s too much work right, we have services to manage our children’s ‘misbehavior’, you can’t possibly be bothered to do such a thing. I mean, you have no formal training in the area, right?

There’s only one other solution as I see it.

Let public policy’s sidekick psychiatry handle it. The most effective means of treating non-productive behavior.

Call the DSM committee, hold a conference, and add “Juvenile Deviant Sexual Photography Disorder” to DSM V. Tell the kids they need treatment, that the behavior is a ‘disease’ and watch the accompanying negative stigma reduce the occurrence of the behavior.

“Send nudes.”

“No, that’s what sick people do.”

“That’s absurd, and a narrow-minded approach to mental illness. You fail to take into account the suffering of people afflicted with these real disorders… also, I think you’re building straw men.”

Ad hominem, and such. Actually I don’t, my theory on neuroses, depression and other assorted afflictions are eclectic and existential. My opinion on the matter is utterly irrelevant, and so is yours. The status quo already exists, the opinion has been published and the only way to debate is a binary fashion, hence me usually keeping my mouth shut on the matter.

Here’s my retort, more eloquent and historically accurate then I could hope to compile on my own. Yes, I own a copy. And this and this and a bunch of other crap you should probably read too, before you immediately adopt the contemporary perspective on a grave matter, the most important pressing matter and all the implications it carries for human existence.

Right, but even if my absurd proposal occurred who would create a ‘disorder’?

“Mental illness is a real occurance, MSN dot com said 6500% of people will experience depression at least 74 times in their lives, more so if they eat chocolate and caffeine.”

Hmph, As TheLastPsychiatrist put it:

“The question of whether ADHD or bipolar “exists” is loudly debated because it is utterly meaningless, in battlefield psychiatry no one is treating the diagnosis regardless, we are all treating symptoms; and we’re not treating symptoms, we’re calling them symptoms because otherwise we don’t get paid, you don’t get the med, somebody’s going to get punched and somebody’s going to get sued because somebody didn’t “manage the underlying psychiatric process that mediated the assault” which doesn’t exist but for some weird reason is widely prevalent in poor blacks and hispanics and whites with calf tattoos.” (Taken slightly out of context, but the purposeful placement remains unharmed.)

I fail to see how it wouldn’t fit right in.

Problem solved. From a consequentialist perspective, the ends certainly justify the means. You want the issue to stop, right?
If the culture is the cause, then the culture is the cure (tangentially, mental disorders are extensions of the culture). Disorders are contextual to the time period in which they occur. If this behavior is deemed deviant, following the theory that it results from the way the culture causes a young person to feel, then wouldn’t prevention stem from that same mechanism?

Also, don’t give me the biological causes of disorders and tell me they all have a root cause. This is absurd at best, and a quick look through the history of disorders shows that many existed as behavior that was deviant from the norm. Eg. Lack of function and/or adherence to social norms. (Yes, clearly this excludes schizophrenia etc.)

(Yes, I’m aware of the lack of syllogistic rigor applied here. No, I won’t reevaluate my statement.)

But I suppose you have a more effective solution, yes? I’d love to hear it.

In the meantime, I’ll be at the bar.

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