Chris Rock famously joked about fathering that “they don’t grade fathers, but if your daughter ends up as a stripper, you f***ed up!” What, then, are we to make of the circumstances of Ms. Carrie Prejean –until recently the anointed Miss. California and runner up to the Miss USA pageant.
If you’re not up on celebrity gossip, recall that Prejean made headlines after claiming that she was robbed of the Miss USA title because of her response to a question by judge Perez Hilton about her stand on gay marriage. (Prejean said she objected to it because of her religious beliefs.) The controversy made her an icon for those supporting California’s Proposition 8 banning gay marriage and, indeed, for the whole conservative movement.
More recently, however, things have taken a turn to the dark side. She was stripped of her Miss California title because of what pageant organizers said was a breach of contract (she was skipping public appearances). She then became embroiled in a bitter lawsuit with said organizers over payment for breast implants. (*Sigh*) That suit was quickly dropped after pageant organizers allegedly presented Prejean and her mother (!!) with a copy of what’s described as a “solo” X-rated video recording that an 18 year old Prejean made for her then boyfriend. Prejean has admitted making that tape and called it the “biggest mistake of my life.” A standard issue media scrum ensued, nonetheless, including a testy appearance on Larry King Live in which Prejean refused to answer questions about the tape and nearly walked off the air. Today brings news that, actually, there may be more than one tape, as well as some racy photos of Prejean, who is being pursued by Vivid Entertainment, a XXX video company that has released tapes of a slew of immodest celebrities. ”The footage we saw is a series of very graphic and hot clips,” Vivid co-chairman Steven Hirsch is quoted as saying. Vivid is offering her $1 million for the rights to the film.
To paraphrase Mr. Rock: “they don’t grade life decisions, but if you have the chairman of an adult video company telling you that you’ve got some hot clips and that he wants to do business, you f***ed up.” But the whole Prejean scandal raises a much larger question for moms and dads alike, which is about how and why a young Carrie Prejean found her way to recording and releasing compromising videos of herself in the first place? I think its safe to say that Carrie isn’t alone out there. Teen idols from Disney superstar Miley Cyrus on down have found out the hard way that sexy photos, sent to an intimate, or thrown out to the world via Facebook and Twitter, have a way of biting you on the a** – presenting an image of yourself to the public that you might not like or wished to have presented.Circumstances are pushing the issue of teens, technology and exhibitionism on the front burner for parents, also. Take the recent intense media coverage of students “sexting” (sending illicit photos of themselves via mobile phone). That phenomenon is a perfect encapsulation of the way that adolescent impulsiveness and peer pressure are combining with easy access to cameras and the Internet, making it easier than ever to make a really stupid decision. The fact that prosecutors are, in some jurisdictions, pursuing legal action against distributors and recipients of these images makes the ramifications of those stupid decisions even greater. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with parents who are deeply concerned about what kinds of stuff their kids are posting online about themselves on Facebook and other networks.
What can parents do? If you have teens, pre-teens and young adults, you absolutely need to talk early and often about the new Birds and the Bees. As ever, a solid understanding of their bodies is indispensable. Adolescents need the facts about sexual reproduction, pregnancy prevention and physical and emotional health – certainly from their parents and hopefully from their school, as well. But there also needs to be a frank discussion about mushier “Sex 2.0″ issues. What are some? How about what to say (and what not not to say) in discussions over e-mail, instant message or SMS? Those messages can easily be stored and forwarded by a callous friend or partner or a spurned lover who may share details about you, your family or your relationship that you don’t want shared. There also needs to be clear guidelines about how to avoid putting yourself in positions like the one Ms. Prejean finds herself in. Parents, including me, blanch at even the concept of illicit images of their kids circulating on the Internet, but spelling out the consequences of an impromptu cell phone photo shoot with your kids and setting a “no pictures, no way” policy is probably smart business. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are yet another area where parents need to familiarize themselves with the technology and not be afraid to lay down some guidelines. Teens should be wary of predators that use these networks, of course, but also show good (informed) judgement about what kinds of photos and statements they post, how those might reflect on them to people who don’t know them well, and how stuff you post on social networks belongs to the social networks — not to you. Goofy photos from you skinny dipping at that house party might seem cool now, but not so when you’re 30 years old and up for a job at a prestigious law firm or bank. Nuff said.