Sexting: Tips for educators, parents for talking to teenagers about sexting
Educators and parents who discuss sexting with teenagers often fail to recognize that young people are, in fact, competent, moral thinkers that with diverse reasons for and opinions about sexting. Be pro-active with them in discussions, not reactive.
Editor's note: This is part two of Anne Collier's series about sexting. Read part one here.Skip to next paragraph
Anne Collier is editor of NetFamilyNews.org and co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a Web-based interactive forum and information site for teens, parents, educators, and everybody interested in the impact of the social Web on youth and vice versa. She lives in Northern California and has two sons.
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Social norms – the expectations and cues that govern behavior in a group or a society — are protective. There hasn’t been much reference to them in the Internet safety field, but they’re a pillar of individual and collective wellbeing wherever there is community. You may’ve noticed that, at the end of Part One of this series, I quoted Sydney-based researcher and author Nina Funnell where she touched on the social norms young people are developing around sexting — an important safeguard against the violation of trust involved in forwarding someone’s photos without their consent.
Young people she interviewed told her they’d never do such a thing. One invoked the Golden Rule as a reason why she’d never do such a thing, another pointed out the “exploitation” or “cheating” that nonconsensual forwarding would represent. A high school student I spoke with recently said, “Nice kids would never do that.” There is growing evidence that young people already have in place preventive or protective social norms around digital photography of all kinds, including sexually related imagery.
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Advanced moral reasoning among sexters
Going through her interview results, Nina thought of Kohlberg’s stages of moral development because most of the answers from the “non-forwarding group” in her sample “fit somewhere between stages 3-6,” she told me. “No one [emphasis hers] mentioned anything that would actually fit into stage 1 or 2.” A Stage 1 or 2 answer would be the response that virtually all anti-sexting education has been aimed at to date: something like “I don’t want to get prosecuted/charged with child porn offenses” or “She’d never send me another nude again” — responses that are only about consequences for oneself, not the other person(s). Nina’s point, she wrote me, “is to illustrate that the ‘non-forwarders’ are actually highly capable of advanced moral reasoning. We shouldn’t assume that young people are not capable of this and can only be engaged in education around the laws.”