Family

‘Sexting Can Be Empowering’ for Kids — Oh, Really?

'The Ingraham Angle' makes clear this problem for our teenagers goes far beyond a 'digital issue' today

A new report in JAMA Pediatrics earlier this week confirmed several facts we already knew (or suspected) about teens and sexting, but other findings were far more surprising — and deeply concerning — as were some of the recommendations for dealing with it.

In addition to the disturbing findings regarding the prevalence of sexting among today’s teens, the authors of the study noted that “sexting is a predictor of sexual behavior and may be associated with other health outcomes and risky behaviors.”

In other words: Parents’ concerns about teen sexting should go far beyond the sexting behavior on its own.

“Is it healthy for kids to be sexting, and should it be added to their sex ed curriculum?” asked host Laura Ingraham Tuesday night on Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle.”  Joining her for a discussion about the most recent research and developments on the topic were behavioral and psychology expert Dr. Gina Loudon and psychotherapist Dr. Karen Ruskin.

“Sexting — meaning utilizing your phone to express your thoughts and feelings — is part of the digital age, and that is exactly why having sex education would be helpful,” said Ruskin, jumping right into the fray.

“You’re in my classroom. Here’s my education. Don’t sext,” Ingraham replied.

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Loudon, the behavioral and psychology expert, noted, “Women are mostly harmed through texting.”

Even after the rigorous debate by the panel, Ruskin shockingly claimed at the end of the segment, “Sexting can be empowering” — leading Igraham to suggest sarcastically that the ridiculous notion be emblazoned on T-shirts.

The fact that teens are using their phones (and sometimes computers) to exchange explicit texts, photos and videos isn’t a shock. The fact that they’re doing it in greater numbers than before — and that they’re forwarding those sexts without consent — is deeply concerning. The social and emotional consequences are bad enough; but add legal consequences in some cases, and people may be looking at a powder keg of trouble that could have lifelong ramifications.

The researchers examined 39 studies in a meta-analysis exploring sexting prevalence among children and teens. The responses of more than 110,000 teens across the 39 studies were analyzed together. Participants’ average age was about 15, and just under half of them were male.

The researchers found that 14.8 percent of teens had sent a sext, and nearly double that number had received them. Twelve percent had forwarded a sext without consent, while 8.4 percent had had a sext they sent forwarded to others without their consent.

Another finding that may throw moms and dads for a loop involves the gender of the kids engaging in sexting. Many parents believe it’s mostly girls who get talked into sending nude photos of themselves. Well, you better sit down for this next bit if you’ve got sons — the boys are doing it, too.

These data show that gender was not a moderator of prevalence of sending or receiving sexts. Similarly, gender was not a moderator of the prevalence of nonconsensually forwarding a sext nor having a sext nonconsenually forwarded by others. In other words, parents need to keep as close an eye on their boys’ digital activities as they do their girls’.

Curiously, the authors of this study do not appear to support the notion that teens’ nonconsensual forwarding of sexts should be punished nor dealt with through the legal system. They suggest, instead, that “a sizable minority of youth are sexting. It is possible that this behavior may be a normal part of sexual behavior and identity formation in the digital age. Consequently, efforts and resources to criminalize sexts should be redirected to educational programs on digital citizenship and healthy relationships.”

What?

So instead of holding Johnny’s or Jenny’s nose to the grindstone if you catch your children sending nudes of their exes to all their friends, parents should just pat them on their heads? We should say, “Oh, that’s OK. That’s all perfectly normal. Plus, you’re still technically young enough that your behavior could be challenging to prosecute. Carry on and good luck to you.”

Seriously? Exactly what kind of message would that send?

These kids are too young to be held responsible for engaging in revenge porn — yet old enough to dictate national policy?

“The answer is not to tell young people that they should not sext, but rather to engage them in thinking, with each other, about sexting as part of the broader negotiation of intimate relationships,” advised Mary Lou Rasmussen in an article in Medical Xpress on Monday. Rasmussen is a professor at Australian National University whose research focuses on “building transdisciplinary understanding of sexuality and gender across diverse ‘lifeworlds,’ taking account of issues related to sexual citizenship.”

She is also the co-author of “Handbook of Sexuality Education.”

So if teachers, parents, faith leaders and other adult influencers’ in teens’ lives aren’t supposed to discourage kids from sexting, how are we supposed to protect them from the “health outcomes and risky behaviors” the study authors admit are associated with the behavior?

Related: How to Help Boys with Today’s Aggressive Girls

These are the same kids whom the Left is suggesting we allow to guide national policy on gun control based on the fact that they were recently traumatized in a situation involving the misuse of a gun. These are the same kids whose sexting behaviors, nonconsensual and otherwise, that folks are saying should be allowed, since it’s all “just a normal part of their development.”

The logical disconnect is glaring. These kids are too young to be held responsible for engaging in revenge porn — yet old enough to dictate national policy? They’re imbued with the wisdom to evaluate the constitutional merit and limitations of the Second Amendment that could change the political trajectory of our entire country, but they still have to be protected from the consequences of sharing nude pics of their ex with the whole football team after a bad breakup?

Some folks’ answer to teens who are sexting comes down to giving the kids a heads-up that there are risks involved and that they should therefore be very careful. And we all know how effective that approach is with teenagers.

Ingraham’s simple, straightforward advice was spot on: “Don’t sext.”

Michele Blood is a Flemington, New Jersey-based freelance writer and regular contributor to LifeZette.

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