By Jonathon Van Maren
It’s not a popular view to hold, but I believe that one of the most dangerous things you can give your teenager is a smartphone. As I noted several years ago, there are many reasons not to give your child one of these dangerous devices (Tim Challies put in bluntly in a December article titled “Please Don’t Give Them Porn for Christmas”), and the news seems to produce corroborating evidence for this position by the day.
Late last year, a police officer from Prince Edward Island warned that nude selfies were now so ubiquitous among schoolchildren that “it’s become part of the courtship process for kids as young as junior high,” according to Canada’s state broadcaster. In some cases, pictures are being sent by children as young as sixth grade. These photos—generally of the sender’s genitals, or topless photos—have a “110% chance” of being shown to others. Despite this fact, most teenagers simply do not seem to think through or understand the consequences of this behavior.
The sexting phenomenon has transformed teen dating. “They’re sending these pictures before they go on, say, a date with somebody,” said Jane Wood of PEI’s Youth Justice Services. “I would say that these pictures are being sent before they hold hands. It seems like the first thing to do.” Some girls are pressured into sending the photos, while others now send them willingly as sexting becomes the norm. As a result, Wood noted, “I’ve had kids that I worked with in junior high and are now in high school and will say, ‘Jane, I sent pictures like in Grade 8. I wasn’t thinking and now they’re being passed around again in high school.’”
And consequences can go from bad to worse quickly. Some of the photos are used as “revenge porn,” with boys blackmailing girls into unwanted behaviors by threatening to send the photos to others. Photos could also end up online on porn sites. It bears mentioning that any sexually explicit photos of someone under the age of 18 qualify as child pornography, which is resulting in some young men ending up with criminal records and saddled with the permanent sex offender designation for sexting with underage girls. Some young men have permanently destroyed their reputations before they are old enough to rent a car.
Last week, the CBC reported that one Maritime teen, Kiona Osowksi, is basing her Grade 12 research project on her own experiences, attempting to find out the answer to one simple question: “Why are girls so often asked for nude photos?” Adults, Osowski said, often appear to want to avoid the issue, “but it’s happening. We’re constantly asked for pictures or we’re sent things without our consent. This has become a societal norm and we need to start taking it apart.” Boys, she says, feel “entitled” to ask for nude selfies, and girls often “feel compelled to send them.”
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Her teachers admit to being shocked by her findings, noting that her research was a real “eye-opener” into what kids are actually doing with their phones and how they’ve been impacted by this “new reality.” Osowki’s project details how pornography, sexting, social media, and media representation of women leads girls to hate their own bodies and constantly compare themselves, resulting in widespread self-loathing and even eating disorders.
Osowski also found that pornography was a huge part of the problem. “When she brings up porn in her presentation,” CBC reported, “Kiona said it always raises some eyebrows among her peers…but she believes the way women and men are portrayed needs to be talked about…[her teacher] points to her own course material, which includes research that suggests 80 per cent of young men in Canada between the ages of 12 and 18 watch porn daily.” Both Osowski and her teacher believe that the impact of this toxic material on the way boys and girls think should be conveyed to students who generally have no idea how this material actually affects them.
Parents often throw their hands in the air as they become aware of the scale of this problem, wondering what can be done to prevent these behaviors and their damaging consequences. The answer, of course, is a simple one that nobody wants to hear: Take away the tools they are using to do these things.
Take away their smartphones.