As more kids have access to mobile phones and devices, sexting — the practice of sending racy photos — is becoming more of a headache for today’s families. Just how much of a headache was demonstrated was recently demonstrated at the Community House Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina, after one stray photo led to a creation of a long list of students who have exchanged sexually explicit photographs and videos of their peers.
Jamie Brooks, the Community House principal who was confronted with this issue last year, said that “natural recklessness” together with technology was heightening the consequences of students’ bad choices and commenced a counter-attack by stringent digital monitoring. The program, which seeks not only to protect kids from themselves but also to alert parents, launched last April and will continue into the coming academic year.
Inappropriate use of digital media isn’t limited to Community House, a high-performing school located in one of Charlotte’s most affluent areas. As she started searching, Brooks quickly found questionable content posted by students in several local schools. Any student with an Internet connection is at risk of making bad judgments.
Suzanne Meeker is one of the Community House parents who was stunned by Brooks’ slideshow of area students – names and faces obscured – going online to talk dirty, act sexy, brag about drug use and make racist comments.
Meeker said that it was the racism expressed by students that shocked her the most. She said that exposure to television was responsible for fermenting those kinds of ideas in children’s minds.
Although there had been rumors that Community House’s recent adoption of a Bring Your Own Technology program was to blame for the sexting explosion, Brooks explained that away as a misunderstanding. Personal digital devices were banned during finals week to prevent cheating, and one student was disciplined for using a phone in an inappropriate way on a school bus last year, but otherwise the issues that arose were strictly off-campus.
Kenneth Lynch, a CMS police detective who specializes in cyberissues, says the decision to let students bring their own devices to school made little difference in the number or type of incidents the department investigated.
The most egregious online misbehavior, including taking and circulating sexual photos, was already going on outside school, and that didn’t change, he said.
The CMS wireless network is restricted and monitored – though students with a data plan can shift to their own mobile Internet connection during school time. Brooks says her faculty started looking for that while students were using their devices in class.