Today is International Women’s Day and I decided I wanted to use this opportunity to bring awareness to an issue that’s having a profound impact on our girls and young women. It’s time we use our voice instead of allowing ourselves to be silenced and shamed. If we’re ever going to step into our inherent role of being leaders and agents of change, then we need to start having these difficult and often sensitive conversation about the sexual exploitation of women.
In this post, I’m specifically calling on anyone who is plays a role in the life of our young girls; whether you’re a parent, teacher, coach, mentor, or family member. We shouldn’t be waiting for things to go horribly wrong to have this conversation. Prevention is empowering. Trying to piece back a life and do damage repair is a heartbreaking journey. I hate getting calls from parents whose worse fears have come to pass. Trust me, the discomfort you may experience in initiating a discussion about sexting with your teenage daughter does not compare to the guilt and remorse you may have from choosing to stay in the dark.
Sexualizing and Desensitizing Our Young Girls
According to a recent report on National Public Radio, the rate of suicide among adolescent girls has nearly tripled in recent years. Not to say that the trend of sexualizing youth does not affect adolescent boys. It does—just not in the same ways. Girls are subject to shaming, sexual exploitation, and sexual violence at higher rates than their male counterparts. Boys on the other hand are encouraged and taught to see girls and women as sexual objects. The male identity is tightly wrapped in the beliefs of male domination and conquest. These beliefs are constantly being reinforced in the media, in legislation, and in certain cultures and religions.
We can see this trend happening all around us. We hear stories. We think these issues will never find their way into our lives and our homes. But we can longer deny the alarming trends of teen sexting, sextortion, and revenge porn. So, let’s get you informed on the basics so you know why this happening and why you should be concerned.
Kids today are exposed to an enormous amount of adult content. They are growing up with technology that encourages them to behave like an adult which naturally, requires them to think like an adult. Yet, development theorist such as Erikson, Piaget, and Skinner tell us that children and teens have certain developmental limitations when it comes to judgment, identity, and decision-making. It’s the reason why we have laws that prevent youth from engaging in adult behaviors like drinking alcohol, driving, or sex with an adult.
Let’s start by getting clear about exactly what the terms sexting, sextortion, and revenge porn mean.
Sexting is the act of sending or posting provocative or sexually explicit personal images, video or text via a cell phone or other electronic device. Teens will engage in sexting to attract attention from the opposite sex, satisfy a partner, delay sexual relations, show off their body, or for pure entertainment.
Sextortion or Revenge Porn is the use of threat or blackmail of a friend, partner, enemy, or stranger with public or selective disclosure of their private information to include text messages, pictures, video, or contact information. People resort to sextortion or revenge porn with the intent to humiliate or shame their victim, to feel powerful, for entertainment, to get sexual benefits, or to solicit graphic pictures and video.
The most important take away from this article is in understanding that there are physical, emotional, and legal consequences for adolescents who engage in these behaviors.
Physical consequences. Young girls and teens that engage in sexualized behavior and talk are at increased risk of victimization. They are also at an increased risked of being coerced or physically forced to engage in a sexual act.
Emotional consequences. Young girls and teens are at an increased risk for experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression, or emotional trauma when they engage in sexting. If the situation escalates to sextortion or revenge porn, adolescent girls are at a heightened risk of having suicidal thoughts and ideation.
Legal consequences. Sending semi-nude or nude photographs of a person under the age of eighteen via a digital device is essentially transmitting child pornography. Even if it is one teen sending it to another teen. This is a federal law but some states have an exemption for “voluntarily self-generated intimate images”. Although the law was not intended to persecute adolescents, it still applies.
If you want to learn more about your parental responsibility and ways to protect young girls you can listen to my Nourishing Bits Podcast Episode 21 or download my eGuide Raising Kids in a Digital World. Both give you specifics tips on what you can and should do as a parent. My informative eGuide also has a Texting Dictionary to help you decode common acronyms that teens use to secretly talk about sex and drugs.
Join me in the conversation. Share your question or thoughts in the comment box below.