At least, that was the promise of a press release that landed in the NEWSWEEK inboxes this morning. "Secret texting codes: Are kids having sex and getting high under your nose?" asked the release. It's true: Under Your Nose has become a popular make out spot for today's youth. The solution, says this e-mail, is an interview with two authors willing to discuss both the perils of sexting and the value of good manners. The authors can also help parents decode the secret texting codes teens use to talk about sex, drugs, and, presumably, bad manners. To wit:
LH6 . P911 . 8 . Al Capone . if your kids use secret texting codes like these, they just said "let's have sex (LH6)", "alert—parents coming into the room (P911)", "oral sex (8)" and "heroin (Al Capone)"
Make no mistake: that would have been one hell of a text. But what's more shocking is the continued attempts to rend garments over sexting, or the assumption that teenagers don't know how stupid sexting is. Last year, we interviewed , who noted that most teens are already aware that sending naked photos or suggestive texts to someone is, like, totally dumb—they just don't think that their boyfriend or friends would ever betray them the way girls (because it's almost always girls) were humiliated by their pals and paramours.
She also made the very astute observation that kids who send text messages are the same kids who in previous generations played spin the bottle, or wrote dirty notes, or experimented with phone sex. In other words: teenagers are going to sexually experiment via whatever media and technologies they can get their hands on. Cell phones don't turn kids into sex-crazed maniacs, and cracking the code for "oral sex" won't stop kids from doing it—they'll just find another code. (As one NEWSWEEK staffer privy to the memo asked in fake horror, "If sex is 6, and oral sex is 8, I guess we can figure out what 7 is. But how many other numbers have the youngs co-opted??" The answer, according to another: "All of them." )
It's important to teach kids about respecting one another and themselves by limiting the circulation of raunchy texts and photos. It's also incredibly essential to talk to kids about sex, relationships, trust, and responsibility. But it's delusional to think that by "speaking their language" parents can put all illicit behavior to a stop—especially because it's implied that parent will use their new code-breaking skills to read your child's private cell-phone messages, which will both discredit and alienate parents trying to do good.
This is not to say that parents should just accept that their children will probably turn into sex-crazed heroin addicts. In fact, just the opposite: parents who have done a good job raising kids thus far, who have been open and honest with them from the start about sex, drugs, and responsible behavior, as opposed to specific chats about cell phone etiquette, have likely raised kids that will end up with high-school diplomas, not juvenile records. But freaking out about one's children sending secret heroin-fueled text messages just because that's what kids are doing these days won't have any positive effects: the real way to get through to kids is to talk to them early and often about big issues, not tech fads. Besides: if you need to snoop through your kids phones to find out if they're using heroin, a few tips on manners probably won't help.