Snapchat and Sexting: When do youth “do it”?

There has been some discussion around Snapchat — the app that allows users to take pictures that are “temporary” in that they automatically delete within 10 seconds after being sent, and are not stored on any central database. Mainly, the issue has been that some people perceive the primary reason for Snapchat as being sexting with fewer consequences (e.g., pictures don’t have a very long lifespan and are therefore less likely to be forwarded or stored for future revenge potential).

Of course, the founders of Snapchat are denying this accusation: The CEO (and co-founder) Evan Spiegel states, in response to those who believe his app is all about sending “intimate photos,” states:

“The reality of the situation is 80 percent of snaps are taken during the day and you can’t upload photos from your gallery.”

This argument is iffy at best. True, you can’t upload a photo, but that surely doesn’t mean that young people aren’t taking naked pictures of themselves during the day. According to this report by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, about 30% of teen’s first sexual encounters occur “during the day.” Furthermore, it’s more than possible that a photo can be sent while the sun is still shining in order to prepare for certain evening activities.

Bottom line is that the argument as to why Snapchat is not being used primarily for sexting is iffy at best. And while it may indeed provide a safer way for youth (and adults) to send sexy photos, it’s still possible to save a photo and post it beyond Snapchat. So the need for education about digital documenting isn’t going to go away.

Teen dating websites: A good idea?

News about Skout.com being used by online predators to lure underage youth has been all over the place lately. Luckily, many experts such as danah boyd, David Finkelor any Larry Magid are chiming in on this issue with their less-panicky perspectives on what is happening concerning youth exploring online, interacting with others, and staying safe. One quote, by Finkelhor, seems to be making the cut in most of the news items I have read:

“If someone wants to help teens do online dating, it needs to be carefully thought out with a lot of education, cautions, abuse detection mechanisms and quality controls.”

Is it just me that’s all excited about this possibility? I mean, really, could we actually develop a SMART teen dating website? One that has the usual online dating stuff, but also includes material about healthy relationships, some educational stuff, and a whole lot of acceptance? I am giddy at the mere thought of it.

I am also realistic, however, and do realize it’s a lawsuit waiting to happen — issues related to age of consent/statutory rape, privacy concerns, bullying, sexting. But I can’t help but imagine a time where such a site could happen, be used responsibly and successfully. How far off into the future is it?

New Standards for Sex Ed: Where’s the Tech?

On January 9th, 2012 the first national standards for sexuality education in schools were released. These standards were established through a collaboration among the American Association for Health Education, the American School Health Association, the National Education Association Health Information Network, and the Society of State Leaders of Health and Physical Education, in coordination with the Future of Sex Education (FoSE) Initiative.

As a sexuality educator, I am very excited to see these. They give schools a place to start when wondering what to teach and when. It guides people through age and developmentally appropriate, evidence-based, medically accurate, sexuality education guidelines — and manages to do so in a manageable 40 pages or so.

The highlight for me was the fact that by the end of the 8th grade, the Standards suggest that young people are able to recognize, analyze, and negotiate the role that technology plays in relationships (p. 18). They also suggest that young people learn how to negotiate technology  use in their relationships. These lessons are to be repeated (and most likely beefed up) during the high school years (p. 33).  It’s important to bring up topics like cyberstalking and online romances into the classroom — it allows young people to understand what a healthy relationship looks like. The Standards also clearly state that both the “advantages and disadvantages” be discussed, hopefully steering educators away from fear-based messages, which simply will not work.

And while I applaud the Standards for highlighting the need to teach young people the role that technology plays in shaping and influencing relationships, I feel they fell short of integrating technology into the standards. What about using the internet as a resource to access information? Use cell phones as a tool to help them maintain sexual health? Yes, there is a brief mention of technology when discussing how media influences perceptions of sexuality (p. 11), but I don’t think that statement goes far enough. I think it’s about time that the internet get it’s own category, instead of incorporating it under the generic “media influences” where it can easily be over-looked in favor of TV and music.  I also think there needs to be an explicit standard that would have young people learn the proper ways to search for accurate and reliable information online.

So, yes, the standards just came out. But when is the planning for the first revision coming out?

 

A look at adult priorities on dating sites

Nerd alert: This blog posting by the staff at OKCupid is full of statistics, but ultimately interesting. It demonstrates how much looks (i.e., your photo) matters when it comes to getting any hits on your online dating post. In fact, they determine that your picture matters more than anything else you post on the site.

What is sort of interesting, however, is how men and women respond to the attractiveness of the photo. Men will judge most women to be of “average” attractiveness — very few will be found to be decidedly unattractive and, likewise, few will be seen as extremely attractive. In somewhat surprising contrast, women are MUCH more likely to rate men as unattractive to average attractiveness.

However — how men and women react to that information differs. Men, despite there only being (in their eyes) very few attractive women will only write to those women. Women, who perhaps because they know there are so few (in their eyes) prime men, are more likely to write to those they find less attractive. The result? A highly attractive woman gets 5 times as many messages as an average woman and 28 times as many messages as an unattractive woman. These differences aren’t as great the other way around where the most attractive guys get 11 times the messages the least attractive do.

Just another way to point out that even though we discourage our youth to post pictures of themselves that will gain “this sort of attention” we have to be honest with ourselves — this sort of attention works in the adult world, too.

Age of Consent and the Internet

An interesting non-case in Oklahoma — two 16-year-old girls, one from Hawaii, one from New York, each flew to Oklahoma to meet a man they communicated with online (note: these girls are both at the age of consent according to the state laws of HI and NY). But since the girls traveled willingly, and they are “of age” according to these particular state laws, there is no crime. But the man bought the plane tickets, so the FBI got involved, based on laws that prohibit “transporting teenagers across state lines for the purpose of sex,” and potential kidnapping charges.

While I appreciate that there are sex trafficking and kidnapping laws in the United States, this might be a situation that is best left to the families, not the legal system.

More Scandals in Club Penguin!

I adore this post on Net Family News, written by “undercover mom” Sharon Duke Estroff. I love it because it is simple, to the point, and therefore quite powerful.

She tells a story of forbidden love between two penguins that can’t be rivaled even by the last Bachelor series. Posing as just a regular old character in Club Penguin, a social world for kids (designed for 6-14 year olds according to the site), Estroff finds herself in the midst of a huge singles scene. She’s hanging out in a virtual pizza parlor with a swanky penguin named “Cowboy217,” who offers to take her back to his place. There, at his pad, they play Truth or Dare, and the CP version of spin the bottle (Spin the Lava). Then, they kiss. And when Cowboy feels the moment is right, he asks for her flipper in marriage. Why do I get the feeling she is not the only one?

Poor Estroff doesn’t know what to do. For she, too, is already taken (a married mother of four IRL, according to her post). But, her heart wins out and she accepts. End scene.

What’s the messagage here? Well, there are several. One is simple — kids will experiment sexually no matter where you put them. You may be shocked by this scenario (which according to Estroff is very common in CP), but when you consider the “real world” games of “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” as well as the same Truth or Dare and Spin the Bottle games mentioned above, most people shouldn’t be all that surprised. Unless they forgot what they were doing in elementary school and junior high…

Another message is more developmental. This scene, to me, is relatively normative for kids who are going through puberty (OK, except for the marriage part — still not sure about that Penguin custom? Can’t they just go out or be each other’s sweeties?). But the site says it is for kids between 6-14 years old! Since when did we ever think an age grouping that large was a good idea? I am wondering what would happen if a 6-year-old was propositioned by Cowboy. Would the child on the other side of the online penguin even know what was going on? And, if so, would there be any psychological confusion or harm?

I think these are questions we need to consider as people of ALL ages venture into virtual worlds. And to do that, we are going to have to acknowledge that we are sexual beings throughout our lifespan (yes, even small children have some essence of sexuality) — and a computer screen might not only not slow that down, it might actually speed it up.

Reading Between the Lines

I’m currently reading a dissertation as part of a reading committee. While I don’t want to reveal too much (there’s a lot of good stuff in here, and it’s not my work to release), I will share one point that has me thinking. In the author’s analysis of why the internet is conducive for fostering intimacy, she notes that even in the “lean nature of a brief electronic note,” much can be said. In other words, we can read a lot into what is there, and feel the connection between another.

While I think this can be true, I also believe something else can happen: we can read a “lean” message and OVER-interpret its meaning. After all, sometimes a brief message is just that — and there is no deeper meaning behind the words. I can see youth falling victim to something along these lines when getting a note from a crush or potential friend — maybe because when I was young, I was vulnerable to this. I could dwell on the smallest little interaction, searching for the meaning behind it while the person in question had long since forgotten it: after all, there was no meaning to be had. I have since seen this tendency when I was a sexpert/relationship advice person for teens. One of the most common questions I would get from youth all over the country was simply this: “does (s)he like me?” Of course, there was always a story to accompany the question, that went something along the lines of:

“I like this guy and I want to know if he likes me. Today, at our lockers, I dropped my book and he picked it up for me and smiled. I thanked him and he said he would see me later. Then, in math class, I think I thought him looking at me. I think about him all the time. Just yesterday he even sort of waved at me in the hall! What do you think? Should I ask him out?”

This was in the early stages of the internet (1998-2000) and IM was alive and kicking, but not in full swing. I can’t imagine the context I would have gotten along with these questions if there was extensive IM conversations involved. I simple 🙂 would turn into “he likes me;” a long conversation online might turn into a meaningful time together, when it was simply something to do while working on a homework assignment or talking to nine other people that night. Or, it could indeed be the start of a new love. We simply don’t know. When is lean, lean and when is it packed with inneundo and implication? And can we really ever tell without, well asking and as a result taking away the brevity? I’m not sure if we can, but I do believe it’s another layer we need to better understand if we are to appreciate how online communication shapes love and relationships.