The story behind the story

By now, many of you have heard about the tragedy regarding Amanda Todd, the teen who took her life after severe cyberbulling. Her video, posted on this article about her, gives her own account of what happened, just days before she took her own life. I encourage you to watch it and “listen” to her story unfold.

What I believe may happen is a flurry of stories much like the one I posted above: the stories that talk about all the evils of the internet and how it is a dangerous place. What happened to Todd is horrible, but I want to highlight the two things that I hope are stressed and the ones I hope that are NOT brought to the front:

1. Media people — please see that this young woman was groomed by online chatters. It took her a year before she took off her top. What was shaping her life during that time? Who was (and wasn’t) in her life? Don’t just focus on the fact that she fell prey to an online stranger. Take a deeper look into how her situation was the result of a slow progression.

2. All of us — especially youth — why did you follow her from place to place? It was bad enough to bully her, but she moved several times to get away from it all. What, inside of you, possessed you to keep harassing and stalking her after she had left? This lack of humanity frightens me.

Things I don’t want focused on:

a. People figured out who she was. Yes, somehow, she was identified. But please don’t make this a scare-tactic story about stranger danger.

b. What she did was illegal. While it’s true that she could have been guilty of creating child pornography, I hope that the focus is on all the harm the other people did.

What’s going to happen now? Unclear. But I hope her story can be used to create dialogue about what can happen when harassment goes too far. There needs to be more forgiveness and understanding taught here. The basic lessons of being a good person.

Cheers to This Outspoken Youth

I found this video featuring a 14- (then 13) year-old speaking about “slut shaming” in a way more thoughtful and articulate than I have heard pretty much anyone talk about it ever.

Here is her YouTube Channel, in which she talks about many things, sadly, not too much about sexuality or sexual health issues. Though we are lucky enough to get her take on Georgia’s abortion laws.

How can we support youth like this so that they can continue to think critically about how sexuality is portrayed in our country, and others?

“Am I pretty?” Questions better left unasked

I am not so sure this is a new trend, but it is one that the media have picked up over the last few days. Most of the articles and blog posts say pretty much the same thing: Middle-school aged girls are posting videos on YouTube asking viewers if they are pretty or not. Then let the responses begin…

This is not unlike Hot or Not, the web site specifically created to answer the question, which has since morphed into a dating site full of risque pics and cleavage. And given the focus on dating, this site is not really meant for the younger set. So, for tweens and early teens, YouTube, in their eyes, will suffice.

My thoughts on this were featured on the amazing Anne Collier’s blog post. Anne and I exchanged thoughts over whether these videos are more harmful than a site like Hot or Not. I think the jury is still out. What I want to add, however, is that although I did say that many of the comments under this one particular video were “stupid” — and by that I mean irrelevant and off topic, there were also ones that were quite harmful and disturbing. For example, one person replied that the poster was “pretty enough to rape.” No one should ever read that.

Update on Me

The fabulous sexuality educator Karen Rayne interviewed me for a piece about YouTube and what parents need to know. I am linking to it here, but promise that I will be updating my own blog in the near future!

Meanwhile, I have been doing a lot in the world of teens and sexuality! I recently spoke at a Teen Night hosted by OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) — the topic was, of course, about teens online! We had a great group of young people and we mostly chatted about the best ways to educate their peers about the potential dangers of online. We talked quite a bit about child pornography laws and most of what I said was news to them! They told me it was very important that people their age learn about the laws related to sending naked pictures of themselves, because even though it might be a “dumb idea” it still happens.

I am also in the throes of planning the wonderful Adolescent Sexuality Conference in Seaside, OR! There will be some presentations that address technology, and others that speak more broadly to teen sexuality. Save the dates — April 6-7, 2009.

Sex Vlog: Inappropriate for Minors?

Came across this vlog (video blog) and am still trying to form an opinion around it. For the most part, I’m inclined to like it. Made by 22-year-old Kicesie, it’s of course about sex. Otherwise, why would I even mention it :-)? Some of her videos do seem to be educational, such as this one on STDs. It’s pretty accurate information-wise, but she uses a lot of judgmental language — “gross,” “disgusting,” — which might alienate anyone who already has an STD, or had one in the past. But overall, she’s cute, and delivers the facts in a very calm, approachable manner. And given the fact that most of her videos are getting several 100,000 views, at least people are listening.

But other examples within her 61-video collection make me think differently about her and her motives. Several of her videos simply ask her viewers questions. Like this one on oral sex. First of all, it starts off with a montage of her in cute and sexy poses, then cuts to her in a low-cut top, camera angled for maximum cleavage display. Is she really trying to be an educator or does she just want to show off her bod? Hard to say sometimes.

After some non-linear babble, looking all coy for the camera, she asks her male viewers what makes oral sex great for them, and encourages feedback. And 529 responded. What surprised me, honestly, was that for the most part the comments seemed sincere. I frankly was prepared for a bunch of immature, irrelevant, inappropriate comments (to Kicesie’s credit, she may have deleted those or maybe YouTube did) — but instead I got graphic, but thoughtful advice on how to give good head from a bunch of random dudes. Interesting.

Then there are times when she simply goes on an editorial rant. Here’s where things start to break down for me. Wearing no makeup and filming in black-and-white (a huge contrast to her dolled-up look she tends to adopt for her question asking videos), she complains about the lack of parental monitoring of children when they go online. “Where are the Parents?” she laments. An old and tired question. What troubles me most about this particular post, however, is her blanketed inaccurate statements. She is clearly troubled by the fact that youth under 18 are watching her videos — disclaimers abound about age appropriateness in her vlogs — and she explicitly states that her content is not appropriate for minors in her monologues. However, in this particular post she states that if children are watching her videos they are “probably in chat rooms with people who are much older than them,” and “they are probably open to predators. They have probably been exposed to explicit pornography.” Hmmmm. I think she is better off sticking to topics she can research more effectively.

And then here come the judgment statements again: “How can you parents let that happen? There is no excuse, no excuse at all.” The statement is strong, yet naive. Her accusations are harsh. She says YouTube should be more responsible for ensuring minors don’t get to see her videos. She seems to want to blame someone for the fact that younger people are listening to her.

But is it so bad that younger people are tuning in to what she has to say (I’d say middle school is pushing it on the age level, but mature high schoolers should be fine…)? She talks about STD transmission, she emphasizes the importance of partner communication. Are these such bad messages to get across to her viewers, no matter their age? I think if Kicesie wants to be a celebrity (at least a minor internet one) she is going to have to deal with all aspects of it. And that means understanding that people she doesn’t want seeing her videos tuning in. And possibly learning something.