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Drumming up a good teen sex scandal for the nightly news ain’t what it used to be. A couple decades ago, a news anchor could scare the shit out of some parents by just turning to the camera and posing a question: “It’s 10 o’clock. Parents, do you know where your children are?”
Nowadays, the advent of e-mail, cell phones, and GPS has ensured that parents always know where their children are. And so, local news reporters have been forced to dig a little deeper than that old rhetorical question for their parental scare tactics. Below, how to engineer a teen sex scandal using only a cell phone, a pair of blue jeans, and a few good “experts.” NBC Washington: “Gossip Site Causing Concern, Controversy in Montgomery County”
Rumors: Is your child spreading them? NBC Washington reports on this concerning new trend, noting that Montgomery County high school students “call each other names, spread rumors, and recently, a former Whitman high school student posted death threats.”
What’s to blame? A dangerous element that lurks, unseen, around us all: the Internet.
Andrew Ship, a high school counselor and “Internet safety expert,” walks solemnly down a high school hallway as he explains to parents the grave dangers of kids spreading rumors. “There’s nobody monitoring this stuff.…There’s no Internet police,” Ship says.
There is no “Internet police,” but there are real police—and like NBC Washington, they’re surfing teen boards, too. NBC reported that cops have “temporarily shut down the Web site twice in the last five months after a photo of a topless underage teen popped up.” Police have since monitored the site for illegal behavior. What the report fails to mention is that the new teenage forum for circulating gossip is actually far more regulated than schoolyard note-passing ever was—now, parents are let in on the notes, too.
In that way, the move from mail to message boards has actually encouraged teen sex scandals: It puts underage improprieties only a Google search away from a local news reporter hard-pressed for a sex story. Now, kids aren’t the only ones who can spread rumors about kids on the Internet!
Leather: Is your child lusting after it? Last month, Fox 5 D.C. published two stories on its Web site covering a list of online chatroom “codes,” titled “50 Acronyms Parents Should Know.” The acronyms included such standard kiddy fare as “A/S/L” (Age/Sex/Location), “POS” (Parents Over Shoulder), and “FOL” (Fond of Leather). This teen sex scare is constructed of a delicate local news logic: Teens use acronyms on the Internet. Sadomasochistic leather fetishists use acronyms on the Internet. Could your teen be couching his sadomasochistic leather fetishism in intricate abbreviated text-speak?
Even Fox 5 can’t be sure. The first story on the acronym blow-up, published May 23, took a novel approach to the teen sex scandal: reporting the trend while simultaneously debunking it. “Many people who see the list wind up howling with laughter, since many of the terms are completely unknown to most people, teenaged or otherwise,” Fox reports, before blaming “some local TV news reporters” for furthering the scandal.
In the second story, published May 25, “some local TV news reporters”—also from Fox—take a more traditional approach to the trend. “It may be an old list, but it doesn’t change the fact that parents want to decipher what it is their kids are reading and how they’re communicating online,” Fox reported. “Erin Jansen, founder of NetLingo, acknowledges that not all of the terms on the list are used by everyone.”
So, are your kids secret Internet sadomasochistic leather fetishists, or aren’t they? There’s only one way to be sure: Don’t ask them.
Combined, the two stories quoted the following sources: PC Magazine editor Sascha Segan; NetLingo’s Jansen; several Digg commenters; 21-year-old Arizona State University junior Jason Parks. None of these people are teens. But many did think the list was ridiculous. “It looks like a lot of them come from online sex chat rooms, and not just any chat rooms, but sadomasochistic ones,” Segan said, in the second story.
What does a local news station do when even its adult “experts” won’t help further its teen sex scandal? Remember that a picture can say 1,000 sadomasochistic online acronyms—even if your kids don’t know any of them. Fox paired its overblown warning of youth Internet use with a shot, plucked from Flickr, of three blond-haired children gathered conspiratorially around a laptop. All are several years shy of tweendom—and decades away from serious leather play.
Fox 5: “Jeans May Cause Tingling Thigh Syndrome.”
Jeans: Are your teens suffering from them? This recent Fox 5 story is a typical “hidden danger of teen trend” piece: This time, wearing fashionably skinny jeans may make your thighs tingle. If you’ve noticed your teen suffers from a compression of the “lateral femoral cutaneous nerve,” he may have been donning these super-tight, sexy leg coverings—under your own roof. The condition, known as meralgia paresthetica, or “tingling-thigh syndrome,” “usually affects obese people or manual laborers.” Now, numb thighs are beginning to afflict a demographic you actually care about. Tingling-thigh syndrome “is cropping up in younger people,” Fox reports. How long has this condition been “cropping up” in younger people? Since you, too, were a younger person. “Skinny jeans are not the first pants to cause the condition,” Fox reports. “Super-low-rise jeans, popular in the late ’90s and early 2000s, were linked to meralgia paresthetica; and in the 1970s, there were rumors that snug jeans caused infertility in men and yeast infections in women.” Older people lucky enough to have escaped sterilization by skinny jeans now have a new set of young denim enthusiasts to worry about. That is, until they reach the end of the story, which completely invalidates its premise. “Salon.com does counter that the condition may not be affecting very many people.”
WJLA-TV: “Sexting: New, Dangerous Teen Trend”
Teens: Do you hate raising them? Published May 15, this teen sex scandal story broke on WJLA-TV a full year after teen “sexting” hit the scare cycle. Sexting, or sending explicit photographs via cell phone, evolved from a centuries-old teenage pastime: creating and sharing nude depictions of sex partners. This tactic preys on society’s weakest—those who think their children are far more difficult to raise than any generation before them.
WJLA-TV works hard to make millennial parents feel sorry for themselves, calling the trend a “new” and “dangerous” “risqué game” that has “invaded middle schools.” According to WJLA-TV, “the phenomenon is raging as wildly as their hormones,” and boy, are modern hormones wilder than ever. This ostensibly local adaptation of the national teen sex trend story is devoid of place, names, or evidence of sexting. Of the 10 12-year-olds surveyed by WJLA-TV’s Julie Parker, half had “heard” of sexting. None had actually sexted.
Thankfully, a couple of anonymous parentals—who declined to stand by their boilerplate shock on the record—provide the necessary outrage. “It’s alarming. They’re not protected,” says one. “It’s really disappointing! It’s hard to be a parent today,” whines another. But not as hard as it is to be a local news reporter in search of underage smut.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery