The panties of various authorities and parental types are all tied up in a knot over the “sexting” – a catch-all phrase for various ways young people have used technology to flirt with each other. Got a cell phone with a camera? Snap a boob pic and send it to your beau. But beware: Greensburg, PA prosecutors are charging three teenage girls with “manufacturing, disseminating or possessing child pornography” to two teenage boys, who in turn are charged with possessing child pornography.

Rather efficient legal work, but, um – overreacting? Just a touch. Judith Levine at the American Prospect argues why authoritarian responses like this are completely misdirected:

How dangerous is it? Not very, suggests a major study released this month by Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet Studies. “Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies,” the result of a yearlong investigation by a wide range of experts, concludes that “the risks minors face online are in most cases not significantly different from those they face offline, and as they get older, minors themselves contribute to some of the problems.” Almost all youth who end up having sex with adults they meet online seek such assignations themselves, fully aware that the partner is older. Similarly, minors who encounter pornography online go looking for it; they tend to be older teenage boys.But sex and predatory adults are not the biggest dangers kids face as they travel the Net. Garden-variety kid-on-kid meanness, enhanced by technology, is. “Bullying and harassment, most often by peers, are the most frequent threats that minors face, both online and offline,” the report found.

Just as almost all physical and sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone a child knows intimately — the adult who eats dinner or goes to church with her — victims of cyber-bullying usually know their tormenters: other students who might sit beside them in homeroom or chemistry. Social-networking sites may be the places where kids are likely to hurt each other these days, but those sites, like the bullying, “reinforce pre-existing social relations,” according to the report.

The policing of teen sexuality continues to ignore the real dangers that come from the home and from bullies at school. Confronting the real sources of abuse, sexual and otherwise, teens face would put authoritarians in conflict with each other, teachers against teachers, parents against parents, cops against their priests — adults against adults, really. In other words, adults truly concerned with the welfare of the children in their communities would make more substantive gains against such abuse if they were willing to stand up against the structures of power that allow such abuse to occur. And ignore media-generated knee-jerk reactions to teen behavior.

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