When the parents of teenage suicide Jessica Logan called for new laws to stop “sexting,” and said that the school was responsible for stopping their daughter and her ex-boy friend and the other bullies who continued harassing her, the focus of discussion shifted from sadness about her suicide to the question of what to regulate and how to regulate it. Should we have new laws to prevent people from texting nude pictures of themselves? Should schools be the forced to stop the practice?
As much as I feel for Jessica and her parents, they’re calling for the wrong methods to try to stop sexting. We shouldn’t have laws to stop self-sexting and schools should not be held responsible for stopping it. Either of those paths are over-reactions to the emotions in one situation. They’ll lead to morasses and a huge waste of time and money.
The first problem was with what Jessica did. The solutions to that problem don’t begin with laws. The solutions begin at home. Whatever the family dynamic was, Jessica sent the pornographic pictures of herself to her boy friend. She didn’t have the sense to look ahead. She’s not the first, nor will she be the last teenager to do something foolish with a boyfriend. And he’s not the first, nor will he be the last ex-boyfriend who strikes back by talking or texting about his ex-girlfriend. Of course, ex-girlfriends also have a long history of doing rotten things to their ex-boyfriends.
That problem is between Jessica and her parents. Do you really think that any seventeen year-old girl hasn’t heard that she should be careful about what she sends in digital form, especially to boys? Except for the ease and speed of transmission, that’s no different from someone, a hundred years ago, giving a hard copy of nude pictures of themselves to their boyfriend. If someone wants to be that dumb, we can’t stop them, anymore than societies have ever been able to stop sex before marriage.
Teenagers have free will. Could any of us stop our teenagers from doing all the things we thought were dangerous? Our six teenagers taught us the futility of that attempt. Could our parents have stopped us completely?
Beyond a short talk about the dangers of exposing yourself in public, schools shouldn’t get more involved. We don’t need extensive and expensive educational programs.
A second issue is the ex-boyfriend’s sending pornographic pictures of someone else, and the subsequent harassment by cyber bullies, especially mean girls. His actions and those of all the other nasty, cyber bullying girls and boys who passed around Jessica’s nude pictures, trashed her on Facebook, IM’d her and ruined her reputation can be made illegal. This situation also illustrates the truism that means girls can be much more vicious than boys.
That’s different from the previous generation’s passing around published “Playboy” centerfolds, where the women had given permission to be seen by everyone.
This is a personal tragedy for the Logan family, but ruined reputations are an age old phenomenon and this problem was started by the person in the middle, Jessica, not by the paparazzi. Our popular culture is no worse than most popular cultures have been, especially during times of opulence, extravagance and excess. You can’t legislate morals successfully in such a time.
Our task as individual parents is still the same; to try to talk some sense and caution into our children and teenagers’ heads. And many of them won’t listen and will learn their lessons the hard way.
I’m sorry Jessica didn’t have the inner strength and resilience to resist the bullying and harassment, and to move on beyond the loss of her reputation. I hope the ex-boyfriend and all the other people involved in harassing her also learned some useful lessons that will change their future behavior.