Our school PTA hosted a parent information session last week on bullying. The true lasting value of the lost hour of my life is that I learned a fun new word: sextortion. I really wish that it meant bodily contortion during sex. But then we wouldn’t be talking about that at a PTA meeting, unless we were shooting video for my awesome new site for mature meeting porn, PTandA.com.
Sextortion, I was fascinated to find out, is when someone is blackmailed after a sexted image of them is received by a sextortionist. This is a Terrible Thing to happen to a sexcitable and insexperienced young would-be sexhibitionist, who will probably be sexcoriated by her parents for sexchanging sexts in the first place. I’m sexhausted just thinking about the sexperience.
As I’ve just demonstrated, everything is more important and more dire if you put the word “sex” in it – especially when talking about dangers to children. The speaker, like all parents, knew two things: our kids are more sexually active than ever and technology has made the world a more dangerous place. Parents know this the same way we know that vaccination is right: we listen to poorly informed people like Jenny McCarthy and we don’t look at data. If we did a modest bit of searching, we would find the CDC’s national Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which would show that kids are having less sex and engaging in less risky behavior than they were in 1991. Coincidentally, most parents I know were around high school age in 1991, and probably having risky and awkward sex with each other at the time. Personally, I attribute all teenage sex in the early 90s to the use of the term “heavy petting” in my health class. I had no idea what this meant until I was in my late 20s. When I was 16, I imagined people firmly rubbing their open palms down their partner’s backs.
I agree with the speaker that the world is a more dangerous place than ever. Even if the violent crime rate is at a twenty year low. I’m about to turn 40, my kids are faster on my iPad than I am, and that scares the bejeezus out of me. Also, September 11th. I am scared of everything, even things like sextortion that are tailor-made for parent blogs and cable news to flip out about, as they cover the same three stories in such repetition that it gives the appearance of epidemic. Remember the new LSD that made face-eating a thing? Like that.
The workshop took place in an old Chicago public school auditorium. I imagined that in a similar auditorium, on the other end of the city and 60 years earlier, my grandparents and their friends could have attended a similar PTA workshop. In the late 50s, if you wanted to send naked pictures of yourself to someone, you’d have to load film in the camera, compose the shot, take the film to the drug store, wait three days, and then another three for the post office to deliver it. No wonder that pornography wasn’t invented until the 1970s, when instant cameras and abundant mustaches made it easier. Parents concerned about Terrible Things in the late 1950s would have learned about the myriad dangers of comic books and rock and roll. It’s too bad the Greatest Generation didn’t have the same fondness for portmanteaus as we do, or they could’ve called silly songs like “Louie, Louie” something catchy, like “crotch and roll.” (Is that technically a portmanteau?).
Before I could stop thinking of words that began with “sex-,” the speaker moved on to another Terrible Thing: violent video games. According to him, video games caused the massacres at Sandy Hook and Columbine. They also caused Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina and make our kids violent bullies. The message was clear: if you love America, children, kittens, and long walks on the beach, you must absolutely keep your kids away from Call of Duty. The lack of any conclusive connection between violence and video games doesn’t matter. Of course, what matters even less is that parents could make choices about the games their kids play. I don’t let my kids play Call of Duty because I worry they’ll kill anyone, but because I’m certain that they’ll find the games upsetting. They’re too young for the aggression, violence, and Manichean worldview. This is also why I haven’t told them about Dick Cheney.
For good measure, we also learned about the dangers of Facebook, Snapchat, and God, I don’t know. Are there horrible people out there who want to do unspeakable things to kids? Yes. And they will always avail themselves of the latest technology to do it. And there are also bullies – mean, maladjusted kids, deeply insecure about their hyperthyroidism and poor dentition. In our state of permanent alarmism as parents, we’re not only failing to distinguish between predators and bullies, we can’t even distinguish between gradations of bullies – between mean jerks who say stupid cruel things – Sen. Rand Paul – and people capable of real physical and emotional harm – like Rep. Michael Grimm.
I think it matters. My friends on the PTA put a lot of time and effort into organizing and hosting the workshop. But the meeting offered few if any takeaways on preparing my kids for a world full of bullies large (Chris Christie) and small (Rahm Emmanuel). How could it? With so many Terrible Things, how do parents with limited resources choose their targets? A lot of people want to bring this all to the teachers and administrators, expecting them to act with equal alacrity for the kid who wasn’t included in tag and the kid who was shoved at lunch. There’s only so many hours in the day. Maybe we should check our concern with the rare and terrifying Terrible Things and spend more time on the more likely Real Things.