Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"Sexting"

Disclaimer: Many of the opinions expressed on this blog are just that: opinions. 


A former professor of mine posted a link to a New York Times article on Sexting found here


The article, and topic, brings up so many different things to be concerned about as a parent, student, and educator. The main question is : How do we educate students about the dangers of texting/emailing/Facebook-ing/tweeting images? It seems that students believe that sending these pictures is no big deal, it's important to remind them of the saying: "it seemed like a good idea at the time." Bottomline: IT IS NEVER A "GOOD IDEA" TO SEND NUDE PICTURES TO ANYONE. The article discusses how sending such pictures is part of the adult culture and how teens are trying to prepare themselves for it. Why is sending nude photos part of the adult culture? It is so very important to remember that we are the role models and muses of our students/children. What kind of message does it send to them if it's "okay" for us to do exactly what they are not to?  Normalizing this behavior within the adult culture opens the gate for normalization in the youth/teen culture. Remembering my tween/teen years, if I was told not to do something, I wanted to do it that much more. 

It is vital we educate our students, and parents, about the harms of technology. While technology has provided so many opportunities, there are still many consequences. The repercussions of our online activity follow us wherever we go. Every Facebook status, picture, check-in, text etc. is out there for the taking. The scariest part is that "deleting" your online information doesn't actually erase its existence. Have you ever tried to delete your Facebook profile? Well, what's interesting is, is that the profile will remain in cyberspace until you are ready to start it up again, whenever that might be. Scary, huh? It's so very important that teens understand this. The school from the article urged parents to delete the nude photos, but the photos continued to appear and haunt the victim. Students/teens/parents need to understand what gets put into cyberspace is there to stay; there are no “backsies." 

(Sidenote: remind your students and children that whatever they post online should be appropriate. Many of us in late high school, college, and beyond have come to understand some of the repercussions when it comes time to do college applications/grad school applications/job hunting. Many organizations look to see what is posted on Facebook and Twitter pages, whether images, status, etc, regardless of the privacy settings implemented. Our students and children NEED to be aware of this.)

As part of our training as school psychologists/educators/parents we must stay up-to-date on what happens online. As technology becomes more readily available in our students' culture, and as they/we become more dependent on it, we must stay much more ahead of the game. We are all connected in more ways than I like to remember. It's unfortunate that it's so difficult to unplug, and even more so for students we serve as being plugged in is "normal." It's part of our job, whether we are educators or parents, to educate ourselves on the hazards of online life to better serve students/children. With the increase in cyberbullying, sexting, and the like, it's is our responsibility to stay involved in our student/child(ren)’s lives and monitor their activity.

WARNING: I can't believe I'll be saying any of these suggestions. If I were a teen and my parents tried them I'd be so unruly, upset, and frustrated. However, it is a very different time from when I was a tween/teen, even though it wasn't that long ago. Obviously, adapt strategies and suggestions to suit your family's needs and comfort. 

First and foremost, treat your teen in a way that is appropriate. They are not longer young children, but are not quite adults either (although they may like to think that). Having a discussion about online activity will demonstrate a sense of maturity and respect, rather than prying eyes.  Frame the discussion around the importance of your involvement in their online/technology life. As a parent being involved shows you care. I can almost guarantee the student/child’s response will be “Well, don’t you trust me!?!” In response be sure to say that if you are to trust them, then there should be no qualms about providing the necessary "evidence." Another teen trick that might be used is deleting the history, etc. While I am not tech savy, I’m sure that there are programs available to log the activity of a user on a computer. Put in parental controls where applicable as well. A final recommendation for parents is to remove the computers from the bedrooms. This habit will provide the child with more sleep (since they won’t be on the computer until all hours of the night) and will allow you to monitor what they are doing more effectively.

(Sidenote 2: When removing the computer it would be smart to remove the television as well. This will prevent children from staying up all night watching T.V. (promoting healthy sleep hygiene), which may also help you to monitor what they watch since most shows on late at night are inappropriate for school-aged children.)


(Personal Sidenote 3: Be smart about the cell phones and gadgets you provide children. At what age is it appropriate for a teen/tween to have a cell phone-not at what age do their friends get cell phones? What type of phone should you provide? Does an eighth grader have a need for a blackberry? Most likely not.)

I'd love to hear some thoughts about this topic from parents and educators. I am also curious about programming at your schools regarding issues around sexting. Have you been to any professional development training about technology and our students? 

Until next thyme,
Erika

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