Kids, Sex and a New Age

Recently, a 15 year old girl in Ohio was arrested for taking naked pictures of herself with a camera phone and sending them to some classmates.

The girl could end up having to register as a sexual offender for 20 years as a result.

Just for the record, the age of consent in Ohio is 16.

Reading this story immediately brought to mind how ridiculous and overzealous this reaction is. I could write quite a bit about how these jackasses are using laws meant to protect children from sick adults to instead punish children for exhibiting sexuality during puberty.

But that wasn’t really what interested me about this story. What interested me was that this is an expression of what Clay Shirkey has been talking about. Technology is giving rise to society’s desire to not just consume media, but to create and share media. It’s a fascinating process in adults, but I think it’s even more interesting in our kids.

The generation this girl belongs to has a lower expectation of privacy than we do. They also have a strong desire to self-disclose to others through the use of websites like myspace, facebook and youtube.

It’s reasonable to expect that this generation will apply these same expectations to their sexual development as well. Some might see it as the desperate attempt of a lonely girl to gain the attentions of her male classmates. I think it’s probably more accurate to suggest that her externalization of her sexuality is an extension of this generation’s tendency to externalize every part of their lives into public forums.

In some ways, I think we’re going to have to adapt our social understanding about what are positive expressions of sexuality for young people in the face of a generation that thinks about itself in a fundamentally different way then we do. But knowing that a large segment of the population believes that there are essentially no positive expressions of sexuality outside of marriage, that seems unlikely. So we’ll struggle along with these stupid laws until enough rich people’s kids are being forced onto sex offender registries for things that should be dealt with in families.

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