Most school administrators I meet recognize that students’ use of online and mobile technologies present new concerns about their well-being, ethical challenges, and legal issues for schools. But there is little concensus about the best way to address those concerns, particularly when it comes to the sexually explicit messages students share with their peers.
Those messages (known as sexts to anyone under the age of 30), can spread quickly through social networks, destroying reputations in the process. And sharing explicit images and videos may lead to child pornography charges if the subject is underaged. A dozen Michigan students, for example, may face child pornography charges after sharing text messages with naked photos of a peer.
Further complicating prevention efforts, the explicit content shared in these text messages is often created willingly by students for their boyfriends or girlfriends before it is spread without their consent.
A bill under consideration in Missouri would seek to prevent some of those harms by requiring sex education classes in the state’s schools to “teach pupils about the consequences, both personal and legal, of inappropriate text messaging, even among friends.”
Sex education requirements are a notoriously touchy topic at both the state and the district levels, resulting in a wide variety of approaches on everything from teaching about sexual orientation to demonstrating the use of contraceptives. Whatever specific content schools include in their sex education courses, many say they are working to emphasize the importance of personal decisionmaking to give students a broader framework for understanding their own sexuality. The Missouri proposal would seem to both fit into that frame and to address an issue of emerging importance.
The bill would also require sex education courses to include lessons on “the dangers of sexual predators, including online predators when using electronic communication methods such as the Internet, cellphones, text messages, chat rooms, email, and instant-messaging programs” and how to “behave responsbility and remain safe on the Internet.” Those lessons would include information on communicating with responsible adults about inappropriate activity and ways to report abuse.
What do you think? Should Missouri adopt this approach? Should more states consider it? Or is there a better way of addressing these issues?
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.