Caught an interesting PSA by the Ad Council the other day. The topic? Teenage "textual harassment". Check it out:
Instant communication and teenage angst are a bad combination. I can recall being infatuated with a girl in high school, leaving love notes in her locker, and calling her every night for a spell. In retrospect, that seems pretty lame. I'm just glad I didn't have the ability to access her anytime, anywhere. She would've dumped me way sooner.
And yet now, I see adults creeping each other of Facebook, sending unwanted texts., and generally acting like Stalky McStalkersons. If these tools are abused by supposedly mature members of society, I can only imagine what it's like in the hands of a pimply 15-year-old.
And then there are photos. "Sexting" is the latest media panic regarding the degraded moral state of our children. You give two crazy, sexually experimental kids high-tech phones with digital cameras, and the next thing you know they're sending each other dirty pics. Hell, if Vanessa Hudgens can get naked for the world, why can't I? (The link is safe.)
Of course, beyond the permanent loss of privacy that committing your junk to digital can bring, there are also major legal ramifications. Kids are actually being charged with making and transmitting child pornography. Not just victims, but also self-portraitists. And it has opened up a huge public debate.
But sexting is only part of the issue. For teens, it must be confusing to know the boundaries of what's normal modern technological discourse, and what is harassment. We never handed them a rulebook with their iPhone. The problem is that these communication media are evolving so fast, we parents don't even know the rules ourselves. (How many of us still make gaffs on work e-mail, or post regretful comments on Facebook?)
The Ad Council, at least, is trying to give kids tools they can use at thatsnotcool.com. The site makes a good attempt at relevancy by taking a user-generated, community approach, rather than telling them what to think.
I'm a dad, but hopefully I have eight or nine years to go before I have to deal with pubescent shenanigans. And God knows what technology my son will abuse. But at least people are starting to have a conversation about these issues with kids, and encouraging them to talk amongst themselves. They'll be okay.