Parent, Teacher, Activist
There have been two recent stories of girls who became the victims of brutal bullying campaigns after sending naked pictures of themselves to boys in text messages, or sexting. This is a dangerous trend that brings together impulsivity and hyperpersonal communication, and it has the potential to wreak havoc on the lives of young people.
In the literature about computer-mediated communication, there is a phenomena called “hyperpersonal communication.” What happens with hyperpersonal communication is that people communicating through computers or mobile devices lose the social cues that usually provide them with the signals that they’re sharing too much information. They also feel as if they’re not really sharing things with another person, since there isn’t a physical person standing there looking at them.
When it comes to sexting, hyperpersonal communication is a huge factor. Many girls who send pictures of their bodies to boys via text probably wouldn’t show these same body parts to the boys in person. There’s something about that little mobile device that makes them feel removed from the situation, from what they’re actually doing. In the same way, many boys and girls that text, email, or send Facebook messages that are sexually explicit likely wouldn’t say the same thing in person.
Computer-mediated communication removes so many of the social cues that provide us with the boundaries we need to be able to tell if what we’re doing or saying is appropriate or not. We know by the bad feeling we get in the pit of our stomach (indicating shame) that we shouldn’t do something. We know by the look that someone gets on their face when we’re in person that we shouldn’t say something. Our cell phone or computer, on the other hand, doesn’t say anything. They don’t give us that look. They’re so sterile, so impersonal, it’s easy to feel like what we’re doing or saying in front of them goes nowhere. Like we’re alone. But, we’re not.
It’s vitally important that both adults who care about children and adolescents themselves understand the dangers of sharing too much of ourselves through technology. It’s just so easy to text that picture, but the repercussions are huge. Just ask the families of these two girls who, in a moment of thoughtlessness, shared too much of themselves. It goes beyond locker room talk when there are pictures to share. Pictures so intimate, they never should have been made.
We need to start talking about this issue openly with kids. Parents, look at your child’s text messages, monitor their Facebook and email!! Yes, you do have the right. Teens and tweens, know that when your parents insist upon surveying your messages, they are not out to hurt or humiliate you. They are trying to keep you safe. And, if you find that the two of you can’t agree on where to draw the boundaries, then take the phone and computer away until you can. That sounds harsh, I know. But it’s no different from setting boundaries about other types of behaviors that could be dangerous, such as drinking alcohol, going to parties, or setting curfew. If you don’t think this is that serious, read the story that I linked above. It’s a matter of life and death.