15 April 2009

Sexting in Taylorville

Last night I learned by watching MyCFN News and WANDTV (NBC-17), and by reading the Taylorville Daily News this morning, that Taylorville schools have had three instances this year and at least one last year of 'sexting' (snapping nude or provocative photographs of themselves or others with use of their cellphone). To combat this they now have a policy expressly against sexting in order to show students that it is not acceptable. The new policy will include "language prohibiting pornographic materials or images through magazines, photographs, movies, cell phone pictures and other electronic images" ("'Sexing' Prompts Discipline Code Change in Taylorville Schools"). They will be found to be using cellphones inappropriately and having pornographic material. The principal now can expell students or, in extreme cases, call the police to handle the matter. Obviously they can only expell students if they catch them in the act of sexting.

What kinds of steps can be taken to prevent 'sexing' from a librarian's perspective? We have been talking about this. How can we create programing and a general atmosphere to encourage students know the dangers of 'sexting' beyond getting caught. Of course students may not sext because they will know that if they get caught they have severe penalties, but many kids still will (some will do it for the further thrill of possibly getting caught). How can we create a culture where students understand how much these actions could hurt them, not only today, but in the future? Springfield has a policy of no cellphones at all. Which policy do you think is better, Taylorville's or Springfield's? Those of us in schools may have this as an issue, but what should those of us in public libraries do? We can't bar cellphones since it isn't just kids in the library and there isn't the same context.

The WANDTV Newscast on 'Sexting' from April 14, 2009

If you want to discuss this further you can visit:

For audio from the School Board Meeting you can visit:


  1. The Today Show this morning had a snippet on sexting, as well (http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/26184891/vp/30224122#30224122). It began by introducing an 18 year old boy who had sent pictures of his ex-girlfriend through his phone to other people. He was charged with possession of child pornography and is now a registered sex offender. It has made his life complete hell, and will continue to do so.

    This raises the question of not only how to teach and combat this phenomenon, but also how to treat it from a legal stand point. Certainly these young kids are not sex offenders in the traditional sense. But certainly they are not completely innocent, either. The Today Show continued by interviewing some teenagers in Vermont, where lawmakers are reviewing the legislature and deciding how to punish sexting. The teens made some valid points: most frequently that sex offender is too harsh a punishment for sexting. Some lawmakers believe that sexting should be charged as a misdemeanor, thus making it punishable but not so harsh as to ruin the lives of these kids. Others say that the prosecutors and laws allow for discretion on each individual case. The Virginia lawmaker who was interviewed had recently reviewed the Vermont sex offender list and had left out children who had been charged with child pornography from sexting because he, and others, felt that that was not a realistic punishment.

    So, in similar fashion to Jennifer's question, how do we combat this? I don't think you can simply have no cell phone policies. This sexting can happen at any time, probably from the comfort of one's home. I remember watching videos in school about safety issues such as what to do in a fire, what the consequences would be if you didn't stop at a red light, what might happen if you didn't stop for rail road crossing signs. And those movies are VIVID in my mind. I learned from them, although some were graphic. I think safety lessons like those need to be in place in schools. Teens need to see that people have been charged with child pornography and are now sex offenders. If those teens want to get into college or become teachers in the future, they will be lucky to do so. Teens need to see what could happen to them. There is still that feeling of being indestructible for many teens. This is a very real thing that they can get in trouble for. You aren't legally allowed to have sex until you are 18. And legally you shouldn't be able to send pictures about sex until you are 18 either.

    As librarians and media specialists, I think it our job to expose our students to these issues. Having safety programming on everything from chat rooms to cell phones to social networking sites is important. The biggest thing to make kids aware of is that anything that is electronically sent through phones or the internet is there indefinitely. There are no takebacks. Unlike that note you wrote on notebook paper and handed to a friend, you can't rip up an email or a text message once you write it. It's out of your control for good.

  2. I agree with Katie - as librarians, I think it's our job to inform youth (and the general public, actually) about the realities and ramifications of posting anything online, or sending anything electronically. I think, from a public library standpoint, 'sexting' may be avoided as a specific subject but could be included as a topic, say, in an informative program about electronic 'awareness'.

    And I have been thinking alot about outreach - at least from the perspective of my library, where I work. Wouldn't this be an excellent outreach program to take to schools? Not necessarily broaching specifically the subject of 'sexting', but opening up a dialogue where students can be informed that this kind of activity is dangerous, inappropriate...and can come back to haunt them...in big, big ways.

    As a parent, I have to ask this...do kids REALLY need cell phones? I don't really know the answer to this. My daugters are still young, so they don't (and won't have, for a long, long time) have the need for a cell phone. To me, it's one of those things that should come with adulthood. I would be willing to let my teen have one, if, say, she paid her own bill. Of course, there would be rules, and ramifications for misuse. But were I to allow my child to have a phone, I would not PROVIDE it. I would see it as another opportunity to teach my kid to be responsible.

  3. I just wonder about the kids who do this--Do they have low self-esteem? Are they just trying to shock? Or are they just "paying the stupid tax"? It's terrible to think that this kind of thing can have such long-lasting legal (and ethical) ramifications. I, too, think education would be more effective than punishment at deterring this kind of behavior. But on the other hand, some kids will ALWAYS do stupid things. All we can do is try to teach them how serious this issue can be, and how long-lasting its effects are.

    Re: the cell phones for kids question...we got cell phones as junior high graduation gifts for our kids (now 19 and almost 15). Did they NEED them? Probably not, but they sure wanted them. For me, it was a safety issue--if they ever found themselves in a bad situation (for instance, with a bunch of sexting lunkheads at a party), I wanted them to be able to contact us, no matter what. I especially wanted them to be able to communicate once they started driving--although not WHILE driving! We did set rules for use (i.e. no massive texting for millions of dollars), but Mom and Dad popped for the phones & paid the bills. Any extras like downloaded ring tones, games, etc., came out of their bank accounts.

    My 2 cents! :)

  4. I do think that cell phones can be very useful for teenagers. I had one when I started driving (in 1998) in case of emergency. Maybe they don't *need* cell phones, and they almost definitely don't need phones capable of texting or taking pictures - although it's hard to find a phone these days that can't at least receive one or both. But I'd like to think that most teenagers who have their driver's licenses are responsible enough to handle them. Yes, they can also be incredibly easy to abuse. But I think that teens (and adults!) are always going to find a way to do stupid things, regardless of the technology accessible to them. And on the other hand, there are always going to be teenagers who are completely uninterested in whatever stupid behavior their peers are getting up to.

    When I was in college, I went to chat rooms that were also frequented by people looking for cyber-sex partners In real-life, my sister and I were propositioned by some guys outside of Union Station in Chicago in the middle of the day. Obviously, I did not respond to either one. The opportunities to make bad decisions are everywhere for teens. Should we, as parents and educators try to limit those opportunities? Of course. But I think we do that as much by giving them the tools they need to make good decisions as we do by physically limiting their access to the things that can enable bad decisions.