Sorry New York Times, sexting is NOT normal for teens, and should not be celebrated

A recent column in the New York Times by Dr. Perri Klass gives the impression that sexting is a rather normal, even healthy aspect of teenage sexuality.

Sexting, for the uninitiated, is defined as the sending of sexually explicit digital images, videos, text messages or emails, usually by cellphone.

Klass, who is a pediatrician as well as a health columnist, quotes experts on sexuality and experts on teenagers (I have three, but I’m no expert) as saying that while large numbers of teens engage in sexting, anxious parents have nothing to fear.

In other words, Moms and Dads, stop being so square. Instead, your job as parents is to have a “conversation” with your kids about sexting. The morality of sexting never comes up as an issue.

Might I respectfully demur?

Sexting is not normal. And it should not become normal.

In a world where even the New York Times is acting like a teenager, someone has to be the adult.

I’m not suggesting that we wash out Johnny’s mouth with soap if he decides to make his private parts public, or that Sally be grounded for life because she decides to pose topless.

What I am saying is that we need to stop and take a breath. Just because something is happening doesn’t mean it’s a positive something.

And just because the New York Times is apparently OK with it – and invested in making parents feel guilty that they can’t accept that sexting is fine – doesn’t make it good or right or respectable.

As a father, I understand the importance of conversations about awkward topics with one’s children. But when exactly am I supposed to say?

“I hear that you’re sexting. Cool!”

Or perhaps: “When I was your age, we didn’t sext – because neither the word nor smartphones had been invented yet. Our dumb phones were only good for talking – too bad I missed out on a lot of fun!”

Either way, what good is accomplished? And why are only conversations encouraged, instead of intelligent thought, or – better still – meaningful action?

Klass ignores the primary duty of a parent, which is to foster a healthy sense of morality and appropriateness in a child, and not sell the child out to whatever insanity society has devised at the moment.

In other words – and I’ll be called Mr. Boring Dad for saying this – a parent’s job is to help the child distinguish between right and wrong.

And there’s nothing right about photos of partially or entirely naked high school students. If adults have such photos of minors on their phones or laptops they can be sentenced to prison. But if teens do, it’s justified as exploring their sexuality. What am I missing?

Klass views sexting as a health issue, since it’s part of the overall conversation about sex. Fair enough. But aren’t teen depression and teen suicide also health issues? And if sexting leads to having sex, isn’t teen pregnancy a health issue as well?

And isn’t it possible that children – let’s not forget, they are children – will likely experience shame if their private parts are publicly displayed on devices across the schoolyard (or across the Internet), for audiences far more numerous than originally intended? Teen depression and suicide often stem from a sense of deep shame, all too easily abetted today by social media and smartphones.

In today’s crazy world, who’s supposed to teach morality to children if not their parents? The New York Times?

I’m not a prude or a public scold. I’m all for whatever consenting adults want to do, online or off, individually, in couples, or in small groups, as long as it doesn’t involve minors and nobody gets hurt.

But something important is lost when we start thinking that the inappropriate is acceptable. We aren’t just defining deviancy downward; we’re allowing deviancy to define us.

High school students sending X-rated photos of themselves undressed is stupid. The act further stunts their emotional growth, despite what you may have read in the Times.

There’s a reason why we wear clothes in our society, and it’s not just to keep warm. It’s to keep private the parts of the body we refer to as private parts.

I understand the desire, or even the compulsion, of young people to show others what’s usually covered up. Phones have cameras, teens have phones, and clothes can come off pretty easily when hormones are raging.

But anything that accelerates the sexuality of people who are really too young to handle it is fraught with emotional and physical consequences. It shouldn’t blithely be accepted as a natural part of life.

Which is what the New York Times is doing.

My surmise is that boys goad girls into stripping, showing, and texting, far more than the other way round. Where are the feminists to decry teen sexting, since it disfavors girls? They won’t come near the issue, because in their minds, morality is a four-letter word.

Klass says that teens are more interested in learning about sex and talking about sex than actually having sex.

Again, I must disagree. Exhibit A in my argument: the 1970s.

Some sexters share photos via Snapchat, which causes those photos to disappear within a certain number of seconds, thus affording, at least theoretically, a cheap and brief thrill with no long-term consequences.

But many teens, who are smart with their smartphones, have developed a cunning workaround: when one of those disappearing photos of formerly private parts pops up, Brigadoon-like, on Teen A’s phone, he or she takes a photo of the photo with Teen B’s phone.

And now that photo is free to move about the country, or even around the world, living permanently on the Internet. That means it may pop up in a web search 10 years or more in the future, when a potential employer, a new romantic partner, a spouse or the texter’s own child spots it. Not a pleasant thought. 

I have no idea what my kids do with their phones. I hope they are responsible stewards of the awesome technology that my wife and I equipped them in a moment of parental weakness.

Maybe I’m just being a big buzz kill and overreacting, and I’m one of those boring parents the Klass is so cleverly chiding for being out of step.

But I’m actually not. In fact, I’m right and the Times is wrong.

Just because something is inevitable doesn’t mean it’s good, even if you can deploy squadrons of therapists and self-styled sexperts to say otherwise.

So much of our economy is based on the monetization of the sexuality of emotionally immature people, better known as American teenagers.

We can’t put the genie back in the bottle, or take the cameras off the phones, or take the phones away from the teens. The days of the dumb phone are over.

But we don’t have to go around telling each other that sexting is perfectly fine, natural, or even commendable.

In short, there’s still a need for parents to step up and be parents.

In a world where even the New York Times is acting like a teenager, someone has to be the adult.