November 18, 2017

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You Mean I Can Lose My Job/Admission/Diploma For That?

Students from a nearby district were recently caught sexting: posting sexually explicit messages, photos or videos online. In this case, the boy who shot the video and the boy he forwarded it to are being charged with a felony, Juvenile Sexual Exploitation of a Child. While they will be tried as juveniles, there is still the possibility that both will have to register as a sex offenders if convicted. They will have to knock on the doors of their neighbors and explain their felony, tell their future bosses and colleges they are applying to about this crazy sex video they shot in high school.

These kids aren’t alone. Research suggests that as many as 20% of all high school kids and one of three 20-24 year-olds have uploaded a nude or semi-nude picture of themselves. In addition to sexting, students’ entire online presence is under scrutiny. Four times as many college admissions counselors are utilizing social networking sites this year to find qualified applicants. According to a 2011 Kaplanstudyof college applicants, 12% of students might have been rejected because they had online profiles that negatively impacted their admission chances. Imagine the shock experienced by the full ride scholarship athlete who posted racial slurs and homophobic comments on Twitter only to find, within 24 hours, all scholarship offers were rescinded by the granting institutions.

Many folks, especially young people, post inappropriate content without regard to consequences. This carelessness may be a result of the manner in which adolescent brains develop, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) study published in National Geographic(Oct 2011). The study revealed that adolescent brains develop with a slow and uneven arc, which results in a different understanding of their realities. They have a higher regard for reward while consequences are frequently ignored. They like the excitement, novelty or risk of an activity because it gives more weight to the payoff.

A student may admit to a posting, saying: “I did write the message. But I shouldn’t be fired for such a small thing!” They think what they’re doing is their own private business, and don’t realize that it could very quickly become public.

What can we as teachers/librarians do to help kids? Advocate for unfiltered access at the high school level to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter so we can model appropriate and positive use of these tools. Encourage posts that show good character and judgment. Demonstrate how to avoid racist, sexist, or flat-out ignorant posts, not only their own, but of friends posting on their walls as well. Teach them how to avoid negative comments (not everything sucks!) and those overly harsh or critical of others. Teach students to create a positive online presence by posting awards, volunteer activities, and work experiences.

We must find ways to guide young people with a light but steady hand, helping them to stay connected while finding ways to promote their independence. This will give them more opportunities for success and avoid potentially tragic consequences.

Phil Goerner, teacher librarian, Silver Creek High School, Longmont CO

This article originally appeared in School Library Journal‘s enewsletter SLJTeen. Subscribe here.

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Dodie Ownes About Dodie Ownes

Dodie Ownes left the glamorous world of retrospective conversion and disco to jump on the library vendor train. Since then, she has been learning at the feet of the masters about all things library. Dodie lives in Golden, Colorado, where even the sign which arches the main street says "Howdy."

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