email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
12 and HoldingA Guide to Asperger SyndromeA Lethal InheritanceA Mother's Courage: Talking Back to AutismA Parent's Guide to Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning AutismA Special EducationA Toss Of The DiceA Tribe ApartA User Guide to the GF/CF Diet for Autism, Asperger Syndrome and AD/HDA Walk in the Rain With a BrainABC of Eating DisordersADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your LifeADHD Grown UpADHD in the Schools: Assessment and Intervention StrategiesAdolescence and Body ImageAdolescent DepressionAggression and Antisocial Behavior in Children and AdolescentsAll Alone in the UniverseAlpha GirlsAmericaAnother PlanetAntisocial Behavior in Children and AdolescentsAsperger Syndrome and Your ChildAsperger Syndrome, Adolescence, and IdentityAsperger's and GirlsAssessment of Childhood DisordersAttention Deficit DisorderAttention-Deficit Hyperactivity DisorderAttention-Deficit/Hyperactivity DisorderAutism - The Eighth Colour of the RainbowAutism and MeAutism's False ProphetsAutistic Spectrum DisordersBad GirlBeen There, Done That? DO THIS!Before I DieBetween Two WorldsBeyond AppearanceBig Mouth & Ugly GirlBipolar ChildrenBipolar Disorder in Childhood and Early AdolescenceBipolar DisordersBipolar KidsBlackwell Handbook of Childhood Cognitive DevelopmentBody Image, Eating Disorders, and ObesityBody Image, Eating Disorders, and Obesity in YouthBoy AloneBrain-Based Therapy with Children and AdolescentsBreaking PointBreathing UnderwaterBringing Up ParentsBullying and TeasingBullying PreventionBut I Love HimCan't Eat, Won't EatCaring for a Child with AutismCatalystChild and Adolescent PsychiatryChild and Adolescent Psychological DisordersChild and Adolescent PsychopathologyChild NeuropsychologyChild Well-BeingChildren and SexualityChildren Changed by TraumaChildren with Emerald EyesChildren with Sexual Behavior ProblemsChildren, Sexuality and SexualizationChildren’s Dreaming and the Development of Consciousness City of OneCommunication Issues In Autism And Asperger SyndromeConcepts of NormalityConcise Guide to Child and Adolescent PsychiatryConquering the Beast WithinConsuming KidsContesting ChildhoodCount Us InCrackedCrossesCutCyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy TeensDamageDemystifying the Autistic ExperienceDescartes' BabyDilemmas of DesireDirtyDisconnected KidsDoing SchoolDon't Bother Me Mom--I'm Learning!Don't Pick On MeDying to Be ThinEarly Intervention Programs and PoliciesEating an ArtichokeEducating Children With AutismEight Stories UpElijah's CupEmerald City BluesEmotional and Behavioral Problems of Young ChildrenEpilepticEthical Dilemmas in PediatricsEvery Girl Tells a StoryExiting NirvanaExploiting ChildhoodEye ContactFacing BipolarFamily HistoryFast GirlsForever YoungFreaks, Geeks and Asperger SyndromeFreewillFrictionGirl CultureGirl in the MirrorGirlfightingGirlhoodGirlWiseHandbook of Evidence-Based Therapies for Children and AdolescentsHandbook of Preschool Mental HealthHealing ADDHelping Children Cope With Disasters and TerrorismHelping Hyperactive KidsHelping Parents, Youth, and Teachers Understand Medications for Behavioral and Emotional ProblemsHelping Students Overcome Depression and AnxietyHelping Teens Who CutHollow KidsHope's BoyHow Infants Know MindsHow to Keep Your Teenager Out of Trouble and What to Do If You Can'tHurry Down SunshineI Am Not Joey PigzaIdentifying Hyperactive ChildrenIf Your Adolescent Has an Eating DisorderIn the Company of CraziesIncorporating Social Goals in the ClassroomIntegrated YogaIntrusive ParentingIssues for Families, Schools and CommunitiesJake RileyJoey Pigza Loses ControlJoey Pigza Swallowed the KeyJuvenile-Onset SchizophreniaKim: Empty InsideLearning and Behavior Problems in Asperger SyndromeLearning Disorders and Disorders of the Self in Children and AdolescentsLearning Outside the Lines Let Kids Be KidsLiberation's ChildrenLife As We Know ItLisa, Bright and DarkLook Me in the EyeLoserLove and SexLove That DogMad at SchoolMaking ADD WorkMaking American BoysManicMastering Anger and AggressionMaverick MindMedicating ChildrenMind FieldsMind to MindMommy I'm Still in HereMore Than a LabelMy Flesh and BloodMyths of ChildhoodNew Hope for Children and Teens with Bipolar DisorderNew Look at ADHD: Inhibition, Time, and Self-ControlNo Child Left DifferentNo Two AlikeNon-Drug Treatments for ADHDNot Much Just Chillin'NurtureShockOdd Girl OutOdd Girl Speaks OutOne Hot SecondOne in ThirteenOphelia SpeaksOphelia's MomOur Journey Through High Functioning Autism and Asperger SyndromeOut of the WoodsOvercoming ADHDOvercoming School AnxietyParenting a Child Who Has Intense EmotionsParenting Children With ADHDParenting Your Out-Of-Control TeenagerPediatric PsychopharmacologyPediatric PsychopharmacologyPediatric PsychopharmacologyPeople with HyperactivityPhobic and Anxiety Disorders in Children and AdolescentsPINSPlease Don't Label My ChildPraising Boys WellPraising Girls WellProblem Child or Quirky Kid?Problem GirlsPsychotherapy for Children and AdolescentsPsychotherapy with Children and AdolescentsPurgeRaising a Moody ChildRaising BlazeRaising Generation RxRaising Resilient ChildrenReady or Not, Here Life ComesReclaiming Our ChildrenRedressing the EmperorReducing Adolescent RiskRemembering Our ChildhoodResilience in ChildrenRethinking ADHDReweaving the Autistic TapestryRitalin is Not the Answer Action GuideRitalin NationRunning on RitalinRunning with ScissorsRutter's Child and Adolescent PsychiatrySeeing EzraSex and the American TeenagerSex, Therapy, and KidsSexting and Young PeopleSexual Teens, Sexual MediaShort Term 12Should I Medicate My Child?SmashedSnapshots of AutismSongs Without WordsSophie Spikey Has a Very Big ProblemSpeakStaying Connected to Your TeenagerStick FigureStraight Talk about Psychiatric Medications for KidsStraight Talk about Psychological Testing for KidsStraight Talk about Your Child's Mental HealthStrange SonStudent DepressionSuicidal Behavior in Children and AdolescentsSurvival Strategies for Parenting Children with Bipolar DisorderSurviving OpheliaTaking Charge of ADHD, Revised EditionTaming the Troublesome ChildTemple GrandinThe American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook Of Child And Adolescent PsychiatryThe Anti-Romantic ChildThe Bipolar ChildThe Boy Who Loved WindowsThe Boy Who Was Raised as a DogThe Buffalo TreeThe Bully Action GuideThe Bully, the Bullied, and the BystanderThe Burn JournalsThe Color of AbsenceThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeThe Depressed ChildThe Developing MindThe Dragons of AutismThe Einstein SyndromeThe EpidemicThe Evolution of ChildhoodThe Explosive ChildThe Eyes of van GoghThe Fasting GirlThe Field of the DogsThe Flight of a DoveThe Hidden Gifts of the Introverted ChildThe Horse BoyThe Identity TrapThe Inner World of a Suicidal YouthThe Inside Story on Teen GirlsThe Kindness of StrangersThe Last Normal ChildThe Little MonsterThe Medicated ChildThe Myth of LazinessThe New Gay TeenagerThe Nurture AssumptionThe OASIS Guide to Asperger SyndromeThe Other ParentThe Perversion of YouthThe Philosophy of AutismThe Psychoanalytic Study of the ChildThe Real Truth About Teens and SexThe Ride TogetherThe Rise and Fall of the American TeenagerThe Science of ADHDThe Sex Lives of TeenagersThe Survival Guide for Kids With LD*The Unhappy ChildThen Again, Maybe I Won'tTherapy with ChildrenThings I Have to Tell YouThings Tom LikesThrough the Glass WallThumbsuckerTotally WiredTouching Spirit BearTrauma in the Lives of ChildrenTreating ADHD and Comorbid DisordersTreatment of Childhood DisordersTwistedUnder the Wolf, Under the DogUnhappy TeenagersUnstrange MindsWastedWe've Got IssuesWeather Reports from the Autism FrontWhat about the KidsWhat in the World Are Your Kids Doing Online?What Works for Whom?What Would Joey Do?What's Happening to My Body? Book for BoysWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for GirlsWhat's Happening to Tom?When Nothing Matters AnymoreWhen Your Child Has an Eating DisorderWhose America?Why Don't Students Like SchoolWill's ChoiceWinnicott On the ChildWorried All the TimeYou Hear MeYoung Minds in Social WorldsYoung People and Mental HealthYour Child, Bully or Victim?
Sex has always sold, whatever it is one is selling. This can be particularly true when the sex in question is somehow scandalous or atypical. Not surprisingly, then, sexting, which informally can be described as sending nude or semi-nude photos over an electronic device like a smartphone or computer (3), has been the subject of much media attention and public discussion. This has especially been the case with respect to sexting done by young people since the practice combines our discomfort with new forms of technology and with childhood sexuality. Indeed, sexting by young people has created something of a moral panic and media frenzy in the past five or six years. This is what the authors of Sexting and Young People seek first to understand and critique before then proceeding to offer guidance on how society—including parents, teachers, police, and the legal system as well as teens themselves – ought to deal with the issue. While the researchers all work in Australia and completed their empirical research on sexting and young people in that country, their book refers regularly to research done in other parts of the world and hence has application far beyond the borders of Australia.
Part I of the book sets the conceptual stage by examining the current literature on the sexting of young people and theorising about what the appropriate conceptual framework(s) for the practice(s) ought to be. Notable here is the authors' claim that sexting by young people involves a wide variety of practices: e.g., between similarly aged teens sexting each other to ones with a significant age variance; from a boy to a girl and vice versa – both from within and without a relationship; whether a sext is sent on to a party for whom it was not intended; whether the practice is dealt with through legal means or not (which could include incarceration for making and distributing child pornography and/or being put on a sex offender registry for an indefinite period of time); and so on. As a result of this diversity of practices and issues, determining whether sexting creates a social problem and how we ought to deal with it socially, educationally and legally becomes more difficult. Sensibly, Crofts et al. urge us to avoid oversimplifying sexting between young people and to treat what are substantially different aspects of the practice(s) differently.
Part II examines various aspects of young people and sexting discourses; namely, media representations of sexting, sexting as child pornography, factors determining whether young people are prosecuted, and sexting education. The hot button issue regarding sexting and young people involves concerns about the victimization of some young people, and particularly young girls, who may have been coerced into sending sexts which then get distributed to other people. There are horror stories that fit this description exactly. For example, in Canada, we have the case of Amanda Todd from British Columbia who eventually committed suicide after a topless photo of her was distributed through social media. Clearly, such cases that combine cyberbullying and non-consensual sexting (at least in terms of the wide dissemination of the sext) need to be dealt with sternly, most probably through the police and legal system. But attempting to deal with all cases of sexting between young people within this paradigm is badly distorting, and can lead to misuses of the legal system. Many of the attempts by educational institutions to deal with 'teen sexting' have also been wrong headed. Too often such programs mirror the 'abstinence only' sex education policies particularly popular in the U.S.; i.e., just don't do it. But research has shown that this has little effect on the sexting behaviors of young people (just as abstinence only programs have had no 'success' in getting young people to abstain from sex). Part of the issue here is failing to recognize that the firm distinction between 'public' and 'private' lives that many older adults grew up with simply does not exist for young people anymore. Young people's lives are now typically lived online in 'public.'
Part III of Sexting and Young People constitutes the empirical heart of the book. It provides information on the rather large online, quantitative survey the authors conducted in Australia in 2013. The results of this survey are often unexpected. For example, there was no statistically significant difference in prevalence rates of sexting between young males and young females (110) and both boys and girls responded that the number one reason they sent sexts was "to get attention" (118). Moreover, while young people worry to some extent about their sext being sent on to third parties, evidence seems to indicate that this happens infrequently (125-126).
Qualitative studies were also carried out by Crofts et al. in eight focus groups with young people aged 18 to 20. An important result of this research, according to the authors is that "[y]oung people's digital identities are carefully crafted and maintained…. [Y]outh are aware of risks and challenges their non-terrestrial identities bring to the fore, including risks of surveillance and limited privacy and [hence] often engage in carefully planned and executed self-censoring practices" (142).
Crofts et al. use Marcel Mauss' work on the nature of "gifting" to help explain sexting. While Mauss's ethnographic and anthropological research examined non-Western 'traditional' societies in particular, Mauss argued that the "obligation and spontaneity of the gift" also applies in a much broader context (19). Hence, many respondents in both the qualitative and qualitative studies referred to their motivation to send sexts as a sort of gift. For example, as one young female university student said, "[F]or a woman it's this really personal thing to reveal herself to a man in this private setting and on the basis of that devotion, yes, you can have it, it's like a gift" (171).
This isn't to say that the authors of Sexting and Young People believe that 'teen sexting' gives rise to no concerns. Rather, we need, they say, "to understand sexting risks both positively and negatively. That is, it may be the attraction of this risk taking that draws young people to engage in the practice. In this sense our attempts to suppress sexting may indeed be inciting sexting behaviours in young people" (178). Understanding this will, in turn, help us to understand why we should not typically treat sexting among young people as instances of child pornography.
Sexting and Young People is a terrific book. The topic is timely, the authors' research, both empirical and conceptual, is broad, rigorous, and insightful. And their advice is completely sensible. I urge anyone who is interested in the topic to read it.
© 2016 Robert Scott Stewart
Robert Scott Stewart, Ph.D., is a Professor of Philosophy at Cape Breton University (Canada). His most recent work has mostly been in the area of the philosophy of sex including two books: R.S. Stewart, ed., Talk About Sex: A Multidisciplinary Discussion (CBU Press, 2013) and Laurie Shrage & R.S. Stewart, Philosophizing About Sex (Broadview Press, 2015).