Hey, Britney and Lindsay turned out alright, didn't they?
They're Called Boys
"Some Say It's OK for Girls to Go Wild"--headline, ABCNews.com, Jan. 17
Actually, many of them are called 'sex offenders.'
Possessing, buying, selling and distributing sexually suggestive images of minors are all criminal offenses under state and federal law. But according to a report by Sheila Marikar of ABC News, the creation of such images by minors themselves is a positive thing:
Your 14-year-old daughter shows up on MySpace in a bikini. Her 13-year-old friend is wearing a miniskirt that might make Britney Spears blush. Time to panic? Not necessarily. [...]
While young women may express their sexuality more overtly than they have in the past, for the most part, their behavior isn't cause for alarm. It's a necessary step in growing up.
Much of Marikar’s story is based on an interview with LynNell Hancock, who thinks that this phenomenon is merely the latest chapter in the long history of adolescent rebellion, and that parents should simply “relax.” Who is Hancock, you might ask? A respected child welfare counselor or developmental psychologist? Nope, she’s a Columbia University journalism professor who “covers the youth beat.”
Okay, let’s pretend that Professor Hancock’s opinions are relevant enough to discuss and….discuss.
"Adults think that kids take everything literally — if [teens] pose in a bikini, they're suddenly sexually active. It's odd that adults who are supposed to think more conceptually are thinking so concretely."
Huh? She think it’s odd that parents are thinking about the possible consequences while their children do not? (Someone, please tell me she doesn't have tenure!) Granted, it's possible that Hancock is right to suggest that there is no connection between this phenomenon and a rise in teenage sexual activity. Since the only study cited by Marikar's report was done before the launching of YouTube and MySpace, it can hardly be used to validate either parents' concerns or the professor's dismissals. Hancock’s Columbia colleague, John Broughton, a professor of psychology and education, isn’t much help. He says:
"What adults don't get is that MySpace and YouTube are very complex and really quite innovative media that have a whole set of conventions of their own, which are not really meant very seriously and not taken very seriously. It's not really as personal as it seems." (emphasis added)
No, I think adults do "get" it, professor. It’s not personal. It’s about objectification. And any decent psychologist should know how destructive a force that is, particularly in the realm of sexuality. To that end, Jaana Juvonen of UCLA raises some very interesting questions:
"It's the kind of dialogue that's missing from our schools at the moment: Have you thought about what that kind of picture does to people? What is the likely reaction for people who see that picture?"
I'd suggest that this dialogue not be limited to the classroom. Any organization that has contact with youth - including families - should find a way to address this issue. We shouldn't wait for girls to turn into statistics by ignoring this legitimately alarming phenomenon.