Not 24 hours before Rob Kardashian lost his mind and secured his place in history as a despicable ex-boyfriend, several of us parent types were sitting on a back deck and talking about the very topic of revenge porn.
We all have teenagers and this topic—the online humiliation of an ex by posting intimate photos of them—is an issue we all felt like we had to talk about with our young digital natives. Then, in perfect timing for that teachable moment, a celebrity did something beyond stupid: Kardashian posted nude photos of his ex and the mother of his child, along with body-shaming text, on Instagram and then Twitter. Whether this was illegal or not remains to be determined.
Studies have shown that this generation of kids, our kids, is less sexually active than previous generations. At least in real life. Somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of teenagers have sent a partner nude pictures of themselves, depending on the study you read.
More girls than boys have sent nude photos, but experts believe that girls are often pressured more into sending photos. As for the revenge part, 22 percent of teens with relationship experience have had a partner use the internet or a cellphone to humiliate or put them down, according to the Pew Research Center.
Twenty-five percent of teens have unfriended or blocked someone online because of uncomfortable flirting, according to the center’s research. That number increases to 35 percent when only girls are surveyed.
I was a teenager in the ’80s when schools were just beginning to talk about HIV. There also were plenty of young women and men who walked across the stage at my public school graduation as parents, or about to be. It seems natural that our evolved offspring would find an approach to sex that limits pregnancy and the risk of disease. Ditto that technology would be involved.
But I find myself wondering what sexting emotionally teach our children. It feels like for so long our cultural messaging has been about avoiding sex or avoiding pregnancy and not about the emotional aspects of a physical relationship, what that part feels like and how it affects us. With our conversations about consent, we were getting closer. And then the smart phones took over.
Neither of my teenaged children had heard about Rob Kardashian’s bad behavior. Both were suitably horrified. My near 18-year-old daughter reminded me of an article she had read about a New York prosecutor who had figured out how revenge porn could be successfully prosecuted. My daughter was more willing to talk about the subject than her younger brother, which reminds me of how important it is to make these conversations ongoing.
When I told her I was going to write about these issues for my blog, she asked me about my angle. That photos are permanent, I told her. That many young relationships don’t last. That even without technology, Rob Kardashian is a jerk. That Instagram shut him down more quickly than Twitter, so maybe we should stay off a social media that can’t protect its users.
That technology outpaces our moral compasses every time. Now is another time for us to catch up.