To the Editor:
In November, it was revealed that at least 100 students at a Colorado high school traded naked pictures of themselves as part of a large “sexting” ring.
These students are not alone; a recent study of Texas high school students conducted by researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found that more than 25 percent of students surveyed said they had sent a naked photo of themselves to someone.
Clearly, more research is needed to better understand the prevalence of sexting. But we don’t need to wait for more research to do something about it, and this latest incident is a wake-up call that we need to take action now. A first step is understanding that while the mechanism is new, the behavior is not. Technology is merely facilitating the ease with which teens communicate and receive validation—a developmentally and socially normative behavior.
Recently, Common Sense Media—the nonprofit organization I founded to teach kids and teens how to safely navigate media and technology—released a media-use report that found America’s teens are spending, on average, up to nine hours a day with media.
The growing popularity of electronics in our lives underscores the pressing need for digital citizenship. We must work to make sure the next generation knows how to think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly both online and off.
Unfortunately, incidents like the case in Colorado could lead to lifetime damage for the young people involved. Just as new drivers need to go through an education course before they are allowed to get behind the wheel of a car, today’s young people need guidance from both school and parents to learn digital-citizenship skills.
James P. Steyer
Chief Executive Officer and Founder
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the January 06, 2016 edition of Education Week as Online Choices Have Offline Consequences—For Everyone