article

03.19.09

Drinking Age? We Need a Texting Age

Teenage America’s obsession with sexting may have driven one Ohio girl to suicide. Ashleigh Banfield says the only way to stop the underage porn phenomenon is to prosecute offenders with zeal.

Let me get this straight: Today’s teenagers, who are products of the electronic age, still don’t understand the permanence of a digital record?

I’ve been reading with prescient horror about “sexting,” the 21st-century equivalent of getting to third base. Sexting may not be new, but its potentially deadly consequences are in the news. A little background:

Sexting is act of sending, by text or by email, boudoir pictures of yourself to a girlfriend or boyfriend, the one who is, like, for sure marrying you after high-school graduation. For my generation, it might seem as naughty as flashing your boyfriend during a Flock of Seagulls concert. The only harm back then: his teammates would find out, and you’d avoid the cafeteria for a week.

The act of emailing nude pictures of your underage friend can bring charges of child pornography. And that little felony can ruin your life.

What’s happening now is much more dangerous, and... wait for it... possibly felonious.

When dream boy cuts a girl loose (or vice versa), he still has her sexy pictures in his phone, and within seconds of the lover's spat, he can instantly soothe his bitter soul by digitally spraying his friends’ cellphones with her racy shots.

Even if he sobers up the next day and says he’s sorry, each of his teammates has feasted on her personal porn. Eventually, they tell two friends… and so on... and so on.

It goes without saying this is more of a problem for girls than boys, as sexual “reputations” are mostly damaging to one teenage gender.

While the rumor mill can eventually die away, sexting leaves permanent evidence, and it can be devastating. In fact, girls caught up in its blowback have reportedly been ostracized, taunted, and even physically assaulted.

In one girl’s case, her mother said it led to suicide.

We are only just on the edge of this dangerous digital precipice. Despite the fact that kids should know how permanent their digital actions are, they don’t. Many can’t be trusted to consider future consequences past a few days. We’ve already decided they can’t be trusted to drink in moderation, drive before age 16, or make many legal decisions before age 18. For heaven’s sake, we can barely trust they’ll dress for the cold, despite the best parenting!

Perhaps the only solution now is to take drastic legal action against those who hit send. The act of emailing nude pictures of your underage friend can bring charges of child pornography. And that little felony can ruin your life. Sentences often include being labeled a “sex offender.”

Unless girls and boys live in fear of this prosecution, there is little left to help them digitally police themselves, preserve their integrity, and maybe even save their lives.

Once word gets out that sexting can get you five to ten, they may be less inclined to “strike a pose.”

Ashleigh Banfield is co-anchor of Courtside on IN SESSION, and hosts Disorder in the Court with Ashleigh Banfield. She previously served as a correspondent and anchor for NBC News and MSNBC.