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A Cyber Civics Lesson on Sexting

Students today use technology as easily as previous generations used a pencil. But technology is much more powerful than a pen or pencil, and it amplifies opportunities for both help and harm. Kids know how to use phones and computers—often more adeptly than adults. The issue for many educators is teaching them to use these tools wisely. Many schools address that challenge by implementing “digital citizenship” into their curriculum.

How can schools do this? What are the costs, both financial and time, to implementing such curriculum? What are the benefits of building this into the students’ educational experience? These are all very difficult questions to address in an already overcrowded educational landscape.

I had the opportunity to observe one class session of Diana Graber’s Cyber Civics curriculum, a cutting edge digital citizenship program. At The Journey School in Aliso Viejo, CA, I sat in on the 8th grade class that Diana led on the topic of sexting. This is a critical topic for students at this age for two reasons:

  • First, this is a social-emotional issue for teens. Apart from technology, they are trying to navigate relationships with their peers, and they become hyper-aware of the opposite sex and attracting their attention. A teen’s relational world can be a place where alliances shift quickly, crushes hit hard, emotions run high, and drama is normal, even without technology to amplify everything.

  • Second, from a technology perspective, teens need to understand the implications of using technology to communicate with friends or people they date. They need to understand that any image or words shared digitally are permanent. You can’t delete what someone else has already received.

In my work with students and parents about cyber safety, I’ve heard hundreds of stories about the unexpected and long-ranging impact that sharing images (especially sexual ones) has on people’s lives, especially when they’re shared far beyond the intended audience (and they almost always are shared much more than a student expects).

Students need to understand the nature of their romantic relationships. The reality is that these

relationships end, and the trust and intention that exists at one moment can quickly be violated. These are challenging issues for us as a society, but they are especially difficult for young teenagers who are attempting to navigate the intersection of relationships with a world of technology.

In other words, the crush or relationship may not last forever, but any words or images you share will.

Cyber Civics builds on a foundation that challenges students to think at a broader level about ethical behavior. This foundation was critical for Diana to lead the discussion on the topic of sexting.

The success of the session is in the sequential delivery of the content. First, sexting was clearly defined. It was apparent that most students had an incomplete definition of sexting. Second, sexting was discussed and analyzed through the use of a recent current event of sexting in a high school. This allowed Diana to challenge the students to make the connection from the definition to the consequences of the action, both personally and legally. There appeared to be a disconnect for the students on this point. Most students did not realize that the consequences could range from school disciplinary action to legal charges resulting in a criminal record.

The next step in Diana’s session was to allow students a forum where they could examine this issue

from an ethical perspective. This was the portion of the class that truly engaged the students and where the quality learning occurred. They discussed the fairness of sending and receiving sexts by thinking through various scenarios of how they could be involved in such situations. They incorporated many of the tenants of Cyber Civics that are the common threads of the entire program: judgment, stereotyping of people, leadership in their communities, especially their online community, and making ethical decisions.

The final step of the session was to lead the students in developing some possible solutions and responses if they find themselves receiving or being asked to send sext messages.

Clearly Cyber Civics does an excellent job of moving through topics in an effective, pragmatic way. However, one of the greatest outcomes of implementing the curriculum is that it provides students a safe environment to ask questions as they try to navigate the intersection of ethical, appropriate behavior with access to powerful technology. Cyber Civics provides a venue to tie the characteristics and actions of good citizenship to the digital landscape.

Find these lessons on Sexting in Cyber Civics: Level 3.

Liz Repking is the mother of 3 children, ranging in age from elementary school to high school. Entering the workforce over 20 years ago, she has spent the majority of her career working as a technology consultant, developing and delivering a variety of training courses for clients.

Five years ago, Liz became acutely aware of the dangers the Internet posed to children like her own. It was apparent that while many parents recognize these dangers, they are uncomfortable and even intimidated by the depth and breadth of the technology our children use. This awareness and recognition led Liz to create Cyber Safety Consulting with the goal to educate parents, children and school educators on both the dangers of the Internet as well as tangible solutions for these issues.

As the Founder of Cyber Safety Consulting, Liz’s technology and training experience is perfectly paired with her passion for the online safety of our children. She believes that every parent has the ability and knowledge to understand the technology and social networking sites that our children are frequenting. Her mission is to help parents and children create an ongoing conversation around appropriate and safe online behavior. Parents need to increase their comfort and confidence in order to keep their children safe by being involved in their online life.

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