Moral Panic

Teen Sexting Can Ruin Your Reputation, and To Prove It We're Calling In the Police

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"It was lunchtime at Wagstaff. Touching butts had been banned by the horrible Headmaster Frond. …"
credit: GoodNCrazy / photo on flickr

Another "sexting scandal" has broken out in a middle school in a suburb northwest of Chicago. This case apparently involves a small group of eighth-graders who have been taking "inappropriate pictures" and sharing them with each other.

Because kids are involved and because sex (or perhaps just nudity) is involved, reporting is somehow both a little salacious and weirdly vague. Trying to decipher exactly what happened from both the local CBS affiliate report and the Chicago Tribune report left me scratching my head. And of course, the school administrators got the police involved:

Officials at a Barrington middle school have contacted police about students "sexting" images to other students, and authorities say they are considering criminal charges.

A "small group of … adolescents were recently involved in 'sexting' inappropriate images among themselves using their smartphones," Craig Winkelman, principal of Barrington Middle School-Station Campus, said in an email to parents Monday evening.

Winkelman said disciplinary actions could be "severe" because "sexting among students can affect reputations and disrupt the educational environment." He warned that criminal charges "may also result" from the students' actions.

Winkelman contributes further to the weird vagueness by adding that some of the students were "victimized" in the incident with absolutely no explanation of what that means. One might think he means teens were photographed unknowingly, but then he added that the kids involved are getting counseling, "despite the pending consequences," which makes the teens sound like both the victims and miscreants at the exact same time (which perfectly encapsulates the way America deals with teen sexuality, no?).

The school clearly wants to protect the privacy of the students involved, but the principal's statement is confusing. Was all participation voluntary or not? It probably doesn't matter to the school or most parents, but it should matter when the school bring police into the picture. If there were no adults involved in this incident, and if participation was voluntary, perhaps the scandal is a matter the teens' parents and school administrators can deal with on their own. But no:

[Winkelman] noted the situation isn't unique to the Barrington area and encouraged families to talk to their children about the "life-altering regrets and damage sexting can imprint on a young person's future."

Yes, especially when you call the police on them and threaten them with criminal charges.