Sexting and Middle School Students

Students texting outside schoolWhile previous studies have looked at correlations between high schoolers who sext (send sexually explicit photos or comments via texting) and sexual activity, a new study looks at middle school students and finds the same correlation. Middle school students who sext are more likely to be sexually active themselves. Even though the overall percentage of middle school students who are sexually active remains small compared to older teens, those who have sent or received sexual texts are more likely to be in that category. It should also be noted that the consequences for teens who start having sex in middle school tend to be greater than for those who become sexually active later in life. They tend to have more partners in a lifetime, are more likely to contract an STD, and are more likely to eventually experience a teen pregnancy.

Amplify Youth Development tries to cover sexting in our lessons, reminding teens of the risks — emotional, social and legal. But we are not a substitute for teens hearing it from their parents! Don’t rely on your child being present (and awake!) during the one moment a teacher brings up sexting. Take the initiative to discuss sexting, no matter how awkward the conversation might be.

A note from personal experience: teens are not always aware of just how inappropriate a comment or photo might be in the eyes of other people. You can believe the best in your teen’s intentions, but they may still be susceptible to sending a text that makes you, or the recipient, blush. Explaining why a text like that is inappropriate might be one of the most painfully embarrassing moments you have with your child, but if you don’t explain it, who will? Teens are not going to learn decency from late night television or sitcoms…

Teen Drinking Has a Social Payoff

We knew this, didn’t we?  If you’re a teen who “parties,” you are more popular.  The Chicago Tribune reported on a study showing that “Teens who reported occasional drinking and getting drunk tended to have higher ‘social connectedness’ than their abstaining peers.”  Last year, this blog reported that teens who have good friends who drink tend to get their first drink from a  friend, rather than their parents.  It may be a good time to acknowledge, and bring out into the open, what is probably evident to your teen.  Popularity may go up if he or she drinks and gets drunk…but that still doesn’t make it wise or desirable.  Just having a lot of friends doesn’t guarantee quality friendships.  Friends that are worth having care what happens to you, and want you to have a safe, healthy experience as you go through the teen years.

Is your teen bullying or being bullied online?

I’ve been reading about ask.fm lately.  The buzz is about teens that have committed suicide after being bullied on the site.  For all the teens that resort to suicide, often after being urged to kill themselves by anonymous bullies, there are many, many more that are living in fear and despair.  Anonymity allows teens to act on their worst impulses.  I couldn’t help but think of the soul-crushing guilt or loss of conscience that the bullies must feel when they face the very real consequences of their cruelty.  Heaven forbid, that my child, or yours, could be that bully.  Chicagonow.com has posted an article telling us what we need to know about ask.fm, including the following:

  • As is true of Facebook and Twitter, you must be 13 to use it.
  • Ask.fm allows anonymous objectionable content, which it does not monitor.
  • Therefore, it’s being used for the worst type of bullying and sexualized content.
  • Users can’t increase privacy settings, as you can with Facebook and Twitter.
  • Ask.fm content can be linked to Facebook and Twitter, increasing the spread of the bullying.
  • “A user can disable his/her account, even if the password is forgotten.”  Kids have been known to lie about that.
  • One user can block another, but the person can still view any interactions under any profile.

Action YOU can take:  Find out if anyone is posting hurtful or sexual things.  Ask if these “friends” are friends in real life.  It’s OK to insist on transparency…sit down and take a look at your teen’s account.  Advise your teen, “Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your  family to see.”

Getting Rid of Unwanted Facebook Photos

Aren’t you glad that the stupid things you did as a teen didn’t get chronicled in full “glory” on the internet for all the world to see?  I have to have some compassion for this generation of teens.  One stupid move, and a “friend” captures a picture of some indiscreet moment.  It’s amazing what peer pressure or a dare, or the brain on hormones, can accomplish!  

Perhaps you see an embarrassing Facebook (or Instagram, Flickr, etc.) picture of your teen showing a terrific lapse of judgment.  Or maybe your teen comes to you and tells you there is a compromising or damaging picture of him or her posted on someone’s Facebook.  Your horrified child would do anything to be able to go back in time and undo that moment.  How can you help?  

The truth is, you might not be able to erase that embarrassing picture, but there are things you can do to minimize the damage.  My internet service provider posted a great article on how to combat these unwanted pictures.  For example, the article suggests: “In the [Facebook] privacy settings under How Tags Work, the ‘profile review’ setting allows you to review and approve every tag before it goes on your page. If you don’t approve a tag, the photo will still be live, it just won’t link to your page. You can also exclude some people from seeing the tag.”  As a parent, first we should insist that we be allowed to “friend” our child so we can keep tabs on our child’s online “presence.”  Then, we would do well to read some of the other suggestions in Comcast’s helpful article.

When Showing Less is More

What an interesting concept:  Power in modesty!  Former Power Ranger actress, Jessica Rey, has a YouTube video discussing a variety of things that have to do with modesty, such as
the history of what we consider showing “too much” and (the most interesting part) research on the impact on the male brain of seeing scantily clad women.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/WJVHRJbgLz8]

 

A CNN report on the research revealing what happens when too much is revealed, shows that a part of a man’s brain lights up that has to do with “handling tools and the intention to perform actions,” rather than the part of the brain “associated with analyzing another person’s thoughts, feelings and intentions.”  It seems that women who show too much can become, in the male brain (not consciously, mind you), an object, rather than a person.  Given that women can be, in fact, objectified when they dress immodestly, and are not valued for who they are (or even seen as a person), doesn’t it make sense that women would have MORE power if dressed modestly?  Jessica believes so, and even includes a few slides of her modest, yet fashionable, swimsuit line in her quest to bring vibrant, healthy modesty back into our culture.  This video is entertaining, and would prompt a great family conversation about our society, how standards of modesty have changed, and if it matters.

Girls Aren’t the Only Ones Who Feel Pressure to Have Sex

One activity I do in classrooms reveals that teens THINK that guys always want the level of physical intimacy in a relationship to go “all the way.”  But I’ve also had boys reveal their real thoughts privately…and they’re much less cavalier in their attitudes about sex than everyone seems to think.  Indeed, I found a fascinating study from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy that talks about what boys think about sex and relationships.  I’ll be sharing findings in future blogs, but for starters, take a look at this advice from the report:  “Girls aren’t the only ones who feel pressure.  Reassure your son that he does not have to have sex. Nearly 8 out of 10 guys say there is way too much pressure on them to have sex—from society, from their friends, and from girls. More than half say they are relieved when a girl doesn’t want to have sex and 45% say they’ve had sex and regretted it afterwards. One in five (21%) say they have been pressured by a girl to go farther sexually than they wanted to. Boys can say ‘no’ too—even if they’ve said ‘yes’ before.”

Teens More Likely to Drink if Close Friends Do

Teens who have good friends who drink are likely to get their first drink from a friend, rather than from family, revealed a study reported on by livescience.com:  “In the study, having pals who drank and had access to booze was the most important factor in predicting when a kid started drinking — trumping a teen’s own trouble-making tendencies and a family history of alcoholism.”

I couldn’t help but think of the times I, in my quest to be cool and popular, brought little “airline” bottles of alcohol (which I had gotten from my parents’ liquor cabinet) to the junior high dances.  And I appeared to most people, including the parents of my friends, as a “good kid.”  I wonder which of my friends back then were introduced to alcohol by me?

So be alert and aware, parents, to the influences on your teens.  And remember, that boy or girl who has been coming to your house since kindergarten may change, and take a different path from the one you want your teen to travel.

When Teens Drive Other Teens, Accidents Happen

When we release our teens at some point as newly independent drivers, do we just hope for the best?  Do we figure that we made it all right, and they will too?  I can still recall the day that one of my daughter’s high school friends was killed in a car accident.  In some real ways, my daughter’s life was divided into “before” and “after.”  And yet…does she know what driving behaviors are risky?  I know I’ve talked about texting recently, as well as speeding.  As parents, we have the ability to “nag” to the point we get tuned out.  But we still have our kids’ ears as long as they are driving a car we paid for, so let’s look them in the eye, and say it again:

No speeding

No texting

No eating

No putting on makeup

No driving under the influence of ANYTHING…

And, according to a study done by AAA, that “anything” means even the influence of the presence of other teens.  The study showed that fatal crashes among 16- and 17-year-old drivers showed these increased risks when teens had other teens in the car.

  • The prevalence of speeding increased from 30 percent to 44 percent and 48 percent with zero, two and three or more teen passengers, respectively.
  • The prevalence of late-night driving (11 p.m. to 5 a.m.) increased from 17 percent to 22 percent and 28 percent with zero, two and three or more teen passengers, respectively.
  • The prevalence of alcohol use increased from 13 percent to 17 percent and 18 percent with zero, two and three or more teen passengers, respectively.

Is There Still a Double Standard?

Not as much as there used to be, according to an American Sociological Association study of college students who were asked their opinions about peers who hook up “too much.”  They judged females and males about equally negatively.  So the “boys will be boys” excuse no longer holds sway with older teens and 20-somethings.

What about younger teens?  The responses my students in middle and high schools give when asked about the social standing of boys and girls who are known to be having sex (teens talk), appear at first to support the double standard.  For the most part, they agree that for a boy, at least in the eyes of the other guys, his social status goes up, while girls are called ugly names when they are known to have had sex.  What I help the guys see, however, is that while their “rep” as a player may get them high-fives from their buddies, the girls most definitely are disgusted by their behavior.

The ASA study shows that the hookup culture, while alive and thriving on college campuses, is being revealed as a negative trend, and at least by the time teens have observed or experienced “too much” promiscuity, they are left soured by the experience.  Let’s hope our sons and daughters are apt observers of their peers, and decide they don’t need to learn the hard way, but instead choose abstinence…and a good reputation.

Sexual Pics Reposted

This article from TechCrunch reveals a phenomenon that isn’t all that surprising, although it is something that I am sure we all hoped wouldn’t happen to such an extent. Sexual pics, including those teens take of themselves, are reposted. Of course, that’s what we all feared would happen and was one of the reasons we told teens not to take such pictures in the first place…but was there any evidence that it was actually happening?

Now, the Internet Watch Foundation has given that evidence. Up to 88% of teens’ sexual pictures are reposted by “parasite websites,” even if the original picture was in a “safe” place. Teens may feel a false sense of security when they share an image via a social network that they think is secure, but once a digital image exists, in can be nearly impossible to erase entirely. So whether or not you have already discussed the dangers with your teen, talk to them again about protecting themselves by never taking sexual pictures in the first place. There is simply no safe way to take, store, or share such images!

And one more thing to keep in mind and discuss with your teen — why? Why take such pictures? The two main reasons that come to mind are peer pressure and the desire to be cool (as defined by a culture rife with pornography). So when you talk to your child, make sure they understand that no one, not even a boyfriend or girlfriend, should ask them to take sexual pictures. If someone asks them to do so, report it to an adult. And if they think it is cool, help them to understand that sexuality is not a tool to be used for fortune, fame or respect. That might be difficult in today’s age, but we must stop defining people by their sexuality and start holding up role models who exemplify something other than sexual appeal or prowess.