I was privileged to be part of this year's annual meeting of FOSI, the Family On-Line Safety Institute. This was the first year they invited a sex expert. So it was 400 public policy people and one sex guy--me.
The lineup of speakers was extraordinary: a Senator; senior executives from companies like Verizon and Comcast; several state Attorneys General; President Obama's Deputy Chief Technology Officer; and dozens of heavy hitters like Adam Thierer (Progress & Freedom Foundation) and Larry Magid (ConnectSafely).
The complexity of the internet, broadband, and mobile-connected world of kids and teens which they discussed for two days had my head spinning. Preschoolers tweeting?
Everyone agreed that the online environment posed various dangers to kids; thankfully, in addition to talking about predators, these sophisticated people talk about cyberbullying and other problems that are far more common in most kids' lives.
All speakers expressed commitment to the same thing: helping young people have safe, productive experiences online. Of course, sincere people disagree on how to define "safe" and "productive"--a common disagreement whenever sexuality is involved. That tension underlines policy discussions of adult sex-related issues, too, like the morning-after pill, prostitution, and same-sex marriage.
With this all-star lineup I didn't have much time, but I did make the following points:
* Why do kids use the internet for various sexual activities? Why NOT? Kids are sexual (whether we like it or not), and the internet is the most powerful communications technology ever invented. Of COURSE they'll use it for sexual purposes--just like adults do.
* How should we deal with kids sexting? The way we would deal with it if we could see beyond its sexual aspect: by talking about trust, power, privacy, and fairness, and respect.
* Parents don't need help dealing with their kids' sexuality online--they need help dealing with their kids' sexuality, period. Most parents deal with their kids' online erotic lives the way they deal with their kids' offline erotic lives--by ignoring or problematizing them.