Friday, December 11, 2009

It's 10 o'clock. Do you know what's on your kid's cell phone?

Last week, the topic was texting. This week the topic is sexting. Don’t recognize the word sexting? Neither does the spell-checker on my computer so don’t feel bad. Sexting is the sending of sexually explicit pictures, videos, or text messages via cell phone.

According to a CNN News report: “The National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy, a private nonprofit group whose mission is to protect children, and, surveyed nearly 1,300 teens about sex and technology. The result: 1 in 5 teens say they've sexted even though the majority know it could be a crime… In many states, like Florida, if a person is convicted of a crime against children, it automatically triggers registration to the sex offender registry. Thirty-eight states include juvenile sex offenders in their sex offender registries. Alaska, Florida and Maine will register juveniles only if they are tried as adults. Indiana registers juveniles age 14 and older. South Dakota registers juveniles age 15 and older. Most states allow public access to sex offender registries via the Internet and anyone with a computer can locate registered sex offenders in their neighborhoods.”

The APS Board of Education is very concerned about this disturbing trend and has proposed procedural directives on what to do in the event that a student is found to have sexted or is suspected of doing so. This is part of a larger proposed policy concerning the use of cell phones at middle schools. Briefly, the proposed policy prohibits middle school students from using cell phones at any time during the school day. Currently students at Taylor may use cell phones outside of the school building before school and after school and during lunch. The new policy would not apply to “students who have a special medical condition for self or family member or if the student is using the cell phone or electronic device for an educational or instructional purpose with the teacher’s permission and supervision.”

I encourage you to talk to your kids about sexting and find out if they have been a victim of this. If they have, please report it to the police and school officials immediately. We want your children to be safe at school.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Textual revolution?

Did you see the Zits comics in Wednesday’s Albuquerque Journal? If you missed it, it starts with young Jeremy looking quizzically at his cell phone while his parents stand nearby.

“Seriously you guys. Something is wrong with my phone” he says.
“Can you still make calls with it?” his mom asks.
“Why would I want to do that?” Jeremy asks incredulously.

I enjoyed this strip so much because it cleverly points out how age effects how we see our cell phones. To me, it’s a phone. To kids, it’s a digital telegraph.

I was visiting with a parent yesterday about how kids use their cell phones more for text messaging than for talking. She shared how she noticed her son was becoming withdrawn and uncommunicative. His grades were dropping and his attitude was less than stellar. Her solution: let him keep his cell phone but remove the texting option. The result: his grades improved but more importantly he became more communicative.

This conversation got me to wondering: Are their negative effects of text messaging for middle school students? My cursory research found:
• Teenagers average over 80 text messages a day
• Repeated texting can lead to pain in thumbs, neck, and shoulders
• Since many teens keep their phones by their beds at night, constant texting can cause teens to interrupt sleep or never settle into a deep sleep.
• Habitual texting can lead to inability to shut down outside communication. Texting puts kids in instant contact and there is societal pressure that makes kids think they need to be in constant contact all the time. A text message demands a response as soon as possible. Plus since teens often feel an innate need to know what is happening there is added pressure to constantly check for new texts.
• Decreased attention span can result when teens are more focused on secretly texting during class than on the teacher’s lesson.

Science is just beginning to assess the effects of text messaging on our youth. But you don’t need to be a scientist to know that kids love to text. In fact I rarely see our students talking on their phones (except to their parents).

Do I think that texting is bad for our students? It depends on each child’s maturity and each family’s situation. I do think that parents should be aware of the potential hazards of texting, both physical and social, and have a conversation with their kids about it. I also strongly encourage parents to check their child’s messages, pictures, and videos to find out who they are texting and what they are saying. Remember, texting is an option and kids need to be reminded it can be removed.