Social media, texting: A potential for danger

What would your teenager say if you asked whether they have ever sent inappropriate messages or pictures through social media or text?

Parents hope their teenagers would say no, but the reality is that may not be the case. 

McCracken County High School Principal Michael Ceglinski understands building positive relationships with students helps them excel. WPSD Local 6 spent the morning with Principal Ceglinski and witnessed how he communicated with students face-to-face in the hallways and in the cafeteria. 

However, he knows the role cell phones, social media, texting and apps play in his students’ lives.

"I think we have to acknowledge it’s not going away, and so we have to use it. We can’t bury our heads in the sand and pretend that these things don’t exist," Ceglinski said.

McCracken County High School has numerous Facebook and Twitter pages. In fact, Ceglinski and other educators even have their own accounts.

"I may not get to see every kid in the hall daily, but they are following me. And I do know that they get up and they check their phones in the morning and before they go to bed," Ceglinski said.

He says what better way to spread a positive, solid message than utilizing those tools?

However, educators aren’t naive. Teachers and some parents know there’s the potential for teens to use the technology to experiment with the negative. 

Nearly 40 percent of all teenagers have posted or sent sexually suggestive messages, according to a study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. And 24 percent of high school teens have been involved in a form of nude sexting, according to a study at Southern Illinois University.

Clinical Psychologist Dr. Sarah Shelton says teens have a false sense of anonymity when sending inappropriate images or messages. 

"There is a sense of de-personalization and a sense of distance that exists that may make teens more likely to engage in those behaviors than they would in person," Shelton said. "They’re seeking the admiration and the attention of their peers, especially if there’s a romantic interest."

Shelton says parents need to be proactive in talking with their teenager.

"Begin by normalizing that those kinds of thoughts and feelings are normal to have at that stage of development, rather than shaming that or ignoring that, is important," Shelton said.

If it’s too late, Shelton says to use the opportunity to prevent something similar from happening in the future.

"It’s important in those moments not to shame the teen, but to use it as a teachable moment so that he or she can make better choices going forward," Shelton added.

One approach parents could take is to explain the possible negative impact of their behavior and the legal trouble they could face.  The United States court system defines sexting as "an act of sending sexually explicit materials through mobile phones."

The messages may be text, photo, or video.  In some states, teens can be arrested and charged with a crime if they’re under the age of 18, regardless of whether the acts were consensual. 

For additional information on how parents can talk with their children about the positive ways to use social media and communicate by text, click here, here and here

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