Finding the Space between Obsessive Modesty and Reckless Sexting

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Photo courtesy of leb.fbi.gov.
Photo courtesy of leb.fbi.gov.

The bathroom doors in our home have no locks, and I’ve never considered that a problem. You shut the door, do what you need to do, and get on with your day. Apparently, my teenage daughter feels differently.

The other morning, as she was taking one of her marathon-length showers, I knocked and called above the shower spray: “Can I come in?” I simply wanted to grab something from the bathroom cabinet.

“No!” she screamed in response.

Undaunted, I opened the door, or attempted to. She had rigged it so that a stretchy hair band, wound around both the door to the bathroom and the closet, would prevent any unwanted intruders from barging in on her privacy.

I don’t think my daughter’s behavior is all that unusual. Having shared a locker room with a gaggle of giggling teenage girls—members of a swim team at the pool where I belong—I’ve marveled at the way they can deftly disrobe from a wet bathing suit and change into their street clothes while managing to keep a towel wrapped securely around their bodies the entire time. What’s more, when using the locker room shower, these teenagers never shed their bathing suits. But here’s the really weird thing. This extreme modesty parallels ‘sexting,’ an emerging trend among teenagers that involves sending sexually explicit photographs or verbal messages via mobile devices.

The early warning signs of this behavior can begin at quite a tender age.

Case in point: When my daughter was 11, she spent the weekend at a vacation home with the family of one of her friends. This generous family invited three pre-pubescent girls to have an extended sleep over in a posh resort town where, apparently, they spent much of their time posing for photos of themselves in bikinis at the resort’s pool—photos which were taken by phone and forwarded to boys they knew.

Whaatttttt?

That was my reaction when the host mother pulled me aside after returning my daughter to our house at the end of the weekend and sharing this news with me. The woman’s older children, in their late teens, ratted out the young girls. Turns out, my daughter operated primarily as the photographer (being introverted and artistic served her well in this situation). But she still went along with the shenanigans. And, like I always tell my kids: If you’re present, you’re guilty by association.

I’m not sure if my severe rebuke had anything to do with my daughter’s increasing distance from this ‘it’ group of girls over the next few months. For as soon as I heard about the episode, I ranted to my daughter about how hard our female forebears had fought for equal rights for women, and how actions by young girls such as sending suggestive photos to boys only served to set the entire female gender back years, if not decades, and on and on.

Judging by the blank stare my daughter gave me in return, I’m guessing my speech had little bearing on her shifting social status. Rather, I think these girls began to see her as unadventurous, not fun or ‘cool’ enough to be one of them.

As painful as it was to watch my daughter being shunned by some of the same friends with whom she’d palled around since first grade, I also was somewhat relieved. If these girls were sending photos of themselves in skimpy bikinis to boys at 11, I figured the worst was yet to come.

I was right.

Having already been dealt the bikini-pictures blow when my daughter was 11, it came as no surprise when I recently learned through the ‘Smaltimore’ mom grape vine that some girls my daughter’s age (now 14), who travel in similar circles and share like-minded pastimes, had sent topless photos of themselves to boys.

These naïve girls, likely thinking they were oh-so-sophisticated to send these bare-breasted images of themselves to their adolescent male peers, claimed they only meant the pictures to be seen by the intended recipients. That the action itself was completely inappropriate is one thing. That these girls were ignorant enough to believe that the pictures wouldn’t spread rampantly, as is typically the case with images sent via mobile devices, shows that these little girls are in way over their heads. And it doesn’t necessarily stop with topless photos.

Over the past few months, several cases of teens’ ‘sexting’ have made news headlines. Just last month, Rochester, Michigan Patch reported that more than 30 teenagers in the area could face felony charges for allegedly sharing nude photos via their cell phones. It began, as these things often do, with a few girls forwarding nude photos of themselves from their cell phones to ‘friends’.

Undersheriff Mike McCabe, speaking to local news reporters about the situation in Rochester, had this to say: “Those who took the pictures and sent them have committed a crime, and those that got the pictures and forwarded them on committed a crime.”

Perhaps telling teenagers that sexting is a crime will get them to stop doing it. But to me, it’s a completely dissatisfactory approach to squelching the behavior. I don’t want my kids to avoid ‘sexting’ just because of the potential punishment that may result.

I think it might be more effective if adolescents—especially girls, who tend to be the subject of these viral photos—would, before they take off their clothes and start snapping pictures on their phones, really think for a minute about why they would choose to ‘sext’ as a way to communicate with their peers. It also might help if teen girls considered the dichotomy between the extreme (bordering on ridiculous) level of modesty they typically exhibit when it comes to everyday exposure of their bodies, compared to the utterly careless and opposite extreme behavior involved in sexting.

Maybe then they’d reach for a cover up the next time someone suggested snapping risqué photos.

Elizabeth Heubeck

Elizabeth Heubeck is a Baltimore Fishbowl contributor and local freelance writer.


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1 COMMENT

  1. Even worse: a “sexting” photo was circulated by one girl allegedly of another girl. That’s the difference between now and even 15 years ago: pictures. Every stupid thing can be captured by photo.

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