Friday, August 2, 2013

The Youth are Watching: What Message NYC's Mayoral Race Sends to Kids About Sexting

by Debra Mares
The recent scandal involving Anthony Weiner, the New York City Mayoral Candidate, brings to mind a serious issue we are facing with our youth: Sexting.  It also forces us to ask what message we are sending to kids about sexting in a climate when internet predators, cyber-bullying, child pornography, and child sex-trafficking is on the rise.  The most recent woman involved in Weiner’s scandal was not underage, but she certainly wasn't much older.  Sydney Leathers, who exchanged lewd online messages with 48 year-old Weiner who used the chat room name “Carlos Danger," was 22 years-old. According to both, they never met in person.

Studies have shown that 20% of teens between 14 and 18 years-old have sent a sexually explicit photo of themselves on their cell phone and almost 40% have received one.  Over 25% of those recipients said they forwarded it to others, even though about one-third of those forwarding knew there could be legal consequences.  Youth crime prevention programs explain to children and parents about "stranger danger" and the risks associated with social media and the internet.  It is widely discussed how sexting can destroy a reputation, affect a person's chances of being admitted to certain colleges or being hired for a job, and can even lead to kidnappings and crime.  Sexting also can lead to cyber-bullying and suicide, which happened in the widely known case involving Amanda Todd, a 15-year old Canadian girl who committed suicide by hanging herself after she was cyber-bullied in connection with sending inappropriate photos to a stranger. 

Young women sometimes initially engage in sexting out of curiosity and impulsivity, but the deeper problem stems from having low self-esteem.  If she doesn't view herself as worthy, lovable and competent, she can make false assumptions about herself and is likely to engage in a continuous pattern of self-destructive behavior.  75% of young women with low self-esteem engage in negative behavior, such as cutting, bullying, smoking, and drinking. And young women who have low self-esteem are four times more likely to participate in activities with men they later regret and feel shame or embarrassment about, such as sexting or sexual behavior. 

Our society already exacerbates the self-esteem problem our young women face.  Today, women are degraded in movies, video games, and song lyrics.  And much of our society tolerates it.  For example, many rap songs glorify the sexual exploitation of women.  The more it becomes accepted, the more it becomes a problem.  The cycle continues. And we don't need politics adding to this mess; we need them to help. This starts by having an honest conversation about the message we are sending to our kids by electing officials who engage in the same type of behavior we're trying to discourage – Sexting.  Afterall, the youth are watching...

What do you think?  Does NYC hold the cards in the message we are sending to our youth about sexting?