Teenagers: Way More Boring Than We All Thought

It turns out that teenagers are not even sexting that much. Ugh, teenagers. Don’t you know that adults’ lives are so horrifyingly boring that we have to occupy ourselves by harping on you young, adventurous things doing stupid crap like sending each other nudie pics with your fancy portable telephones? I just retired my flip-phone a week ago, and I need to believe that someone uses their iPhone for a more exciting purpose than playing 16 games of Scrabble at once. THROW ME A BONE HERE. (And don’t laugh at the word “bone” you immature brats).

There’s been no shortage of hand-wringing over the menace of “sexting” among kids, but new research finds that parents’ concern may be largely overwrought: only 7% of children ages 10 to 17 created, appeared in or received a sexually suggestive photo in the past year.

Next thing you know, you’ll be telling me that every teenager in the neighborhood isn’t hosting Friday-night Rainbow Parties and then spending their Saturdays consuming vodka through a tampon. What else are you idiots doing with your time? Studying for the SATs? KIDS TODAY.

About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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27 Responses to Teenagers: Way More Boring Than We All Thought

  1. Seth Eag says:

    This reminded me of that SNL—which I, um, never watch—sketch about “souping”.

  2. prince proxy says:

    heheheheheheh. I wish this was true. I know for a fact that 90% all the teenagers i know have sexted, although i dont know about the dirty picture part, thats not something you expect people to be very honest about.

  3. Jarrod says:

    If they really want to raise controversy they should ask how many children 10-17 have trolled Omegle.

  4. librarygoose says:

    My nephew said he thought George Bush was a good president. I’d count that as dangerous.

  5. Seth Eag says:

    My nephew said he thought George Bush was a good president. I’d count that as dangerous.

    Oh no, kids are “Bushing”…

  6. Miku says:

    All of them. Or at least most of them.

  7. f. says:

    I don’t know… I think The Hairpin has this one all figured out: http://thehairpin.com/2011/12/teenagers-still-generally-full-of-it

    Dear Adult Strangers on the Phone,
    I might be stupid enough to have texted someone pics of my hoo-ha, but I’m not so stupid that I’m going to talk to you about it. Not even for science.
    All But One Teenager in 100 (and what is that kid’s deal?!)

  8. Mother X says:

    I read Feministe every time it arrives in my inbox. While I appreciate your writing and un-pc cynicism, this post (title & all) leaves me thinking it’s by a woman who’s probably not close to an at-risk teenage girl, who may be unaware of the epidemic of at-risk behavior amongst girls regardless of socioeconomic background, and who doesn’t really care. Of course, that’s probably not you—but your blogger persona trying to squeeze out a quick post on a particular day. Regardless, this post might leave other feminist moms (like me) who are trying to save their kid’s lives—literally—feeling very alone while reading Feministe.

  9. Aine says:

    the only person who’s ever tried to “sext” me was in his 40s….

  10. suspect class says:

    prince proxy: I know for a fact that 90% all the teenagers i know have sexted, although i dont know about the dirty picture part, thats not something you expect people to be very honest about.

    Interesting how you know this for a fact, but not because teenagers are honest about their sexting practices. What exactly is your methodology? Being psychic?

  11. Hey, I know! Why doesn’t everyone declare that their own anecdata is representative!

  12. Tim says:

    I think Mother X kind of has a point. The tone of this post seems a little flippant. There are something like 30M kids in the 10-17 age group (very rough; I had to extrapolate from the Census 10-year age cohorts because I don’t have a lot of time to look further right now). 7 percent of them would be around 2M. Small percentage, yes, but still a lot of kids in absolute terms. It seems like enough to take the problem seriously. Hysteria, of course not, but caution, definitely. To take another example: I don’t know off the top of my head reliable stats for sexual harassment. But if, lets say, it were 7 percent of women aged 19-36 reporting being sexually harassed in the past year, would you say it was “only” that many? And that therefore, sexual harassment isn’t a real problem?

  13. Thomas says:

    What, exactly, is the problem here that people think is so dire?

    Teen alcohol and drug use I think of as a major problem, even if it’s not particularly prevalent. Sexual assault and harassment, which is dangerously prevalent, is a huge problem even if it only happened a little. Intimate partner violence is a huge problem, without regard to prevalence.

    But teen sexual behavior, to me, is of concern mostly because of things extrinsic to the sexual behavior itself: unwanted pregnancy and infection, both of which are almost wholly avoidable in sexually active teens using proper technology and education (see, e.g., the Netherlands); rape and coercion, which plague the entire culture but are in no way inherent to teen sexual exploration; and shaming, bullying and gossip.

    Sexting, whether the sharing of erotic text messages or suggestive or explicit photos, is primarily a problem of shaming and bullying, and not a problem in and of itself. There is not actually anything wrong with teens having explicit communication via text message. It is not bad in and of itself! It just isn’t!

    The problem with sexting is how people react to it — violating privacy and harming the participants. Those problems may only be realistically avoidable by not creating photographic images, but that’s not the same as the act of creation itself being a moral wrong. And yet, people talk about the subject as though girls (and it’s always girls they’re worried about) being sexually explicit by wireless telephone is a moral failing in and of itself. That is an argument literally without basis in moral reasoning except for religious conservatives.

  14. McTea says:

    I’m with those who are confused as to why sexting is a bad thing. Mother X, you’re throwing around the term “at-risk,” but I don’t believe that term means what you think it means. My job consists in large part of working with girls deemed at-risk, and I promise, if all they were doing was sending naked pix to people, I would be thrilled. Absolutely thrilled. You go, girl. Follow your star. Just as long as you stay away from all those drugs and gangs and violence and do well in school, sext away. Really, that’s the least of our problems.

    Sexting, whether the sharing of erotic text messages or suggestive or explicit photos, is primarily a problem of shaming and bullying, and not a problem in and of itself. There is not actually anything wrong with teens having explicit communication via text message. It is not bad in and of itself! It just isn’t!


  15. michael says:

    I guess the teenagers should be less involved in sexting or the like.
    There are so many things they should be learning before they know too much about sex.
    Maybe how to balance a checkbook since the schools don’t teach them that.
    How to be disciplined in spending and learn that as opposed to what some make us believe, value is not created instantly, has a certain rate to be produced. Instant gratuity makes us slaves to Wall Street institutions.

  16. librarygoose says:

    michael: There are so many things they should be learning before they know too much about sex.

    I must have missed the class on sexting when I was young. Teenagers are gonna look at each other naked. Whether or not they know how to properly budget. They’re two different concerns.

  17. sabotabby says:

    The teenagers I work with have lives that are, in general, much more tame than mine was at that age, despite the fact that many of them are deemed “at risk.”

    I’m pretty sure that most of them are using their cellphones for the equivalent of passing notes in class. I know, because they suck at hiding their screens from me when I walk by, and I see what they’re writing. In terms of after school, they predictably inform me that they spend way too much time indoors playing video games, which, while probably not incredibly healthy for their minds or bodies, does seem to keep them out of trouble. In a population of approximately 1600 students, over the past four years, I have not heard of one instance of sexting leading to someone being bullied or shamed.

    I really wish professional concern trolls would spend more time understanding the actual issues that face teenagers—poverty, abuse, homophobia, racism, mental illness, lack of job opportunities, a watered-down education system that just doesn’t prepare them with the critical thinking skills they need to cope with a world in crisis—and less time hyping up faddish scares.

  18. Sarah says:

    I, too, was so confused when I found out that this was something that so many people are worried about. Shaming and bullying are huge issues, obviously, but sexting itself – not so much. If huge numbers of girls are being pressured to send naked pictures of themselves to guys, that’s awful; but teenagers also have sex and participate in sexual activity because they want to, and that’s not a bad thing.

    Also, sometimes I feel like people think “sexting” is just people sending each other pictures of their naked junk. Which is true, but there’s also erotic writing and topless pictures and a whole bunch of stuff slightly more innocuous than just images of genitalia.

    Talking with a group of friends about political sex scandals, one guy said, “I don’t think anyone in our generation [I’m 20] is going to -not- have a naked picture of themselves floating around in the world somewhere by the time we reach the age where we could run for president.”

  19. Jen R says:


    One of Anthony Weiner’s former constituents, I see…

  20. Mother X says:

    Some interesting points have been made by readers. In response to those who referenced my comment: I was questioning the post’s general suggestion—darkly funny as it may be—that teenagers doing less “stupid crap like” sexting makes them “way more boring.” Jill, who could be writing for SNL, goes on to suggest that teen sexting may be an urban legend along with reports of teen group sex and alcohol consumption via tampons—and laments the possibility that all that risky behavior is myth. I love this writer but as a parent (not a professional), in a largely white, middle-class, liberal, gay-friendly, pat-yourself-on-the-back-for-being-progressive community, I’ve witnessed teen sexting destroy self-esteem, friendships and romantic relationships while resulting in bullying and even criminal records that affect kid’s lives and futures. Yes, I think “at-risk” behavior such as teen cutting, drinking, drugs and having sex with adults is far more serious—and it’s rampant in my community where the kids who are sexting are often the ones who daily indulge in such behavior. Anyhow, I might have found this post much funnier if I hadn’t been living the nightmare of parenting an at-risk kid for the past few years.

  21. Andie says:

    Can’t win ’em all, I guess.

  22. tuna says:

    The author of the study herself said that sexting is often part of a constellation of risky behaviours that teens are doing. So Mother X, I’m not sure what your disagreement is with the argument… is it that there are a lot of teens sexting, or is it that sexting is often done by teens who are showing symptoms of something else?

  23. Mother X says:

    In response, I commented because a feminist writer who I enjoy reading joked about our kids being “boring” because some study says they’re sexting less. Sure, like I said (and probably better), I question the study, witnessed the connection between sexting and at-risk behavior, and don’t “get” the funny because of what my 16-year-old just lived through, which I’ve begun writing about under this pseudonym. She’s in recovery now. When I told her about the study’s results, she laughed and said it’s not true in her world. She also said that the kids she knows who sext, like those who cut, drink, do drugs etc, are often the same kids and that the direct connection is serious low self-esteem and other issues that they haven’t started to deal with inside themselves. I just listened and kept my eyes on the road while driving her to her therapist’s office. Anyhow, I really appreciate that there’s even been a volley about these issues!

  24. La Lubu says:

    Mother X, I can see your point—from the perspective of a parent who is struggling with these issues, a flip statement by a non-parent can feel dismissive. But, as a fellow parent, a single mother in a half-white/half of color, working-class-to-working-poor, fairly centrist, gay-unfriendly, reject-the-term-liberal-even-when-its-an-accurate-descriptor-of-one’s-politics-because-thirty-years-of-right-wing-propaganda-has-made-“liberal”-synonymous-with-“rich”, (frankly economically dying) Rust Belt community….I haven’t. And I think that’s worth parsing out, how “at-risk” differs by class, and how teens from different backgrounds have different struggles and negotiate those struggles from different places, with different tools. “Sexting” isn’t seen as much of a risk in my community because there are more immediate risks out there, and because…well, the girls in my neighborhood view girls from the background you’ve described as naive, not “streetwise” enough. As in, “you know he’s going to be posting that on the internet to God and everybody, right? And you won’t be able to get hired anywhere ‘cuz you’ll be a big ol’ slut while he’s just a dude, right? And shit, you can catch charges if photos are involved—your own photos!” I mean, girls in my neighborhood are distinctly aware, and at an earlier age, that the parameters of acceptable behavior are a hell of a lot narrower for them and that there isn’t likely to be any passes given.

    Which isn’t to say that sexting can’t be problematic, or that the reaction to girls sexting is overwhelmingly biased by sexist assumptions…just that….it isn’t one of my parental worries.

    BTW, best of luck with your daughter and her recovery.

  25. Freemage says:

    So the take-away (particularly from MotherX’s comments) seems to be that sexting isn’t some rampant deviancy that’s going to destroy the youth of today, but rather that IF your teen is sexting, there’s probably some underlying issues that need to be addressed.

    Also, MotherX, while 7% of the kids in the survey “appeared, sent or received” a sext message in the prior year, that’s actually a vast overstatement of the phenomenon. One photo gets sent to and by many people, and more people receive than send, with many recipients actually doing the decent thing and deleting the image. We know this simply because otherwise, the number of participants would quickly reach 100%.

    So the percentage of youths who are actually IN such images is much, much lower–and yes, those kids whose images have begun to make the rounds need serious, sober intervention on their behalf by concerned, compassionate adults. But overstating the affected population can create bogus scares that actually cause teens to lose respect for adults (much like prior scares, like rainbow parties and vodka tampons and hell, D&D satanism did). That loss of respect ultimately leads to teens not communicating with their parents, or other adults who might be able to help them.

    The writer, I believe, recognizes this risk, and is using humor to pierce the ‘panic’ mentality that grips parents in our society so often, in an effort to let them focus on the actual issues facing their kids.

  26. Mother X says:

    Some excellent blogs link to this volley, especially La Luba. Yes, “acknowledgement of the existence of differentials” is too often forgotten in comments so I appreciated yours. My list referenced the majority in my community (not me or my family) because I’m writing about the convergence of privilege, denial and ignorance amongst a community of teens, parents and the system—within the context of what I just went through. Yes to what you say and the “passes” given white kids like mine are dangerous—to the point of denying there’s a problem until the kid’s in jail or hospitalized. At one point, when I tried to calmly explain to a white court clerk that her comforting my kid (…you’re too pretty a girl…) after they let her off way easy could only hurt my kid—I got a tight-lipped lecture and it hurt my relationship with the probation officer. And to Freemage: strong last line…

  27. Lindsay says:

    I agree with so many points listed above that I hardly know what to even think about the topic any more. I am only eighteen and I can definitely tell you (without lying) that I never sent or received a nude picture in between the ages 10-17. (I still have not received one now, by the way.) I have also not sexted, but I don’t think it’s terrible for some of these kids to be doing so. (I feel strange calling someone a year younger than me a kid….) Although, I don’t agree with sexting, and I would never do it… but that is such a hormone-filled age that kids are, of course, going to be exploring sexuality.
    Kids often get such a bad rep for being too crazy and playing with drugs or alcohol or being flippant or rude because we are teenagers. And although there are some kids who are like this, there are many more who get this bad rep because of this small percentage. So yes, sexting does happen, and it happens between adults, may I point out… but for the most part kids are really not into sexting.

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