Wednesday, December 21, 2011

How much sexting? It all depends on who you ask

A recent study published in the esteemed journal Pediatrics reports that 9.6% of young people have sent a nude or semi-nude picture of themselves. This percentage is half of the often-reported statistic of 20% that was generated by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. So, what gives? Which number is closer to the truth? CORRECTION: In the Pediatrics study, the number of young people who report having actually sent a picture is only 2.5% -- the other 7.1% received an image! Thanks to Larry Magid for pointing out the correction! Additional corrections will appear in bold.

Sampling gives some clue. The Pediatrics figure was generated from a sample of over 1500 10-17 year-old internet users, using random-digit dialing. They tried to get a good proportion of cellphone users only, but instead ended up relying disproportionately on land-line users. The Campaign figure was generated from a sample of 650+ 13-19 year-olds that come from a base of survey takers through an online marketing group. Results from the Campaign were weighted according to US Census numbers. The Pediatrics study did not weight data, though it attempted to create a representative sample. A quick look at the data shows that Hispanic and African-American youth are slightly over-represented. The two studies essentially asked the same question, so I don't think the methodology is to blame for the difference.

So, an easy spot to see differences is in age. The Pediatrics study surveyed younger participants, so it makes sense that their percentage of sexters is going to be lower. And indeed, looking at the older ages in Pediatrics reveals that 2 of the 10-12 year-olds said they had sent or received a sext (constituting less than 1% of this subgroup), 11% of 13-14 year-olds have, and the number of 15, 16, and 17 year-olds who report sending or receiving sexts -- 17%, 28%, and 21%, respectively (Note: The Campaign does not provide a specific breakdown of behavior by age). Now the data are starting to look similar, no?

There are other possibilities for the differences -- a closer look at the racial composition of the surveys, for example, but that may lend itself to predicting slightly higher numbers for the Pediatrics study, as it appears Hispanic youth are more likely to sext than the other racial/ethinc groups (I would love to know more about this, but it doesn't look as though there is enough detail to better understand this finding). The use of a group of teens willing to partake in online surveys may also skew the numbers of The Campaign findings higher -- it's easier to hide responses from parents, get permission to respond to the survey, etc.

But I think the first thing to do is focus on this age issue. Combining the results from these two surveys gives us an important message that we can act on. Going by the numbers from BOTH surveys, it looks like age 13 is when we should start to be concerned about sexting, and serious alarm bells should go off by the time the young person reaches 16. So, from a prevention mindset, we should start talking about sexting two years before it occurs. Health educators and prevention experts state that discussions about behaviors should begin at least two years before the behavior begins in order to get a healthy message across effectively and on time. Therefore, true prevention folks would target 11-year-olds in their anti-sexting messages. More tentative people better start the conversation by age 13 or 14, but even then that approach misses a lot of youth.

Curriculum designers take note! Sexting conversations should start around the 5th grade, and most certainly by 6th (the start of middle school). Parents be mindful! Sexting conversations can be woven into conversations about other sexual matters, or even be the springboard for conversations about healthy and unhealthy relationships. I hope more studies are done, but I love the fact that these two seemingly similar findings (despite media coverage stating the opposite), give us a solid direction and course of action towards better understanding this phenomenon that simply did not exist when I was younger.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Life as Constant Performance Art

I just finished reading Cinderella Ate My Daughter, which is both pleasant and horrible to read. It essentially breaks down how marketing defines womanhood from an early age (think princesses and more princesses), and how that impacts a woman's sense of self and sexuality moving forward. The chapter on girl beauty pageants almost did me in.

Towards the end of the book, author Peggy Orenstein comments on how social networking plays into this trap of womanhood = constant need to uphold an image of perfection and beauty:

"I don't mean to demonize new technology. I enjoy Facebook myself...Yet I am also aware of the ways Facebook and Twitter subtly shifted by self-perception. Online, I carefully consider how any comments or photos I post will shape the persona I have cultivated; offline, I have caught myself processing my experience as it occurs, packaging  life as I live it...part of my consciousness splits off, viewing the scene from the outside and imagining how to distill it into a status update or Tweet." p. 166

I wonder if this is how youth today constantly process their lives. What should I wear? Will there be cameras? Will this end up on Facebook? What will people say about me? What if I am there and people *don't* say anything about me? Is what I am doing right now worthy of a post or Tweet? As Orenstein notes, life becomes performance, not process. In other words, our days are lived for others' entertainment, comments, and approvals -- not the self. This is frightening to me. For how are we going to truly discover who we are and want to be, if we are not allowed to fail and flounder, lest we be judged by our "friends" and "followers"? Young women certainly want their 15 minutes of fame to be something worthy of celebration, not embarrassment. The trick is to make it safe to feel vulnerable with so many watching.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Siri as moral "guide"

According to Apple's website, Siri is the "intelligent personal assistant" that accompanies a person's iPhone, that uses voice recognition to, among other things, answer questions about location resources, or basic information. For example, you can ask Siri where the closest sushi restaurant is, or how far it is to the nearest hospital.

However, there's a critique of Siri's limitations that has gone viral, because many are challenging the reasoning behind its faults. Apparently, Siri is not capable of offering results that will direct a person to a birth control clinic or the nearest abortion services, but it is perfectly fine addressing needs for Viagra or Pregnancy Crisis Centers (which are anti-abortion). In fact, in some instances, those who ask for an abortion clinic are directed to Pregnancy Crisis Centers, when in fact there are nearby places that provide abortion services.

It's unclear as to whether Siri's limitations and flat-out mistakes are purposeful or just the result of poor programming. Or, as my esteemed colleague Shelagh Johnson hypothesizes, maybe it's a matter of terms like "birth control" or "abortion" being so absent from general discourse, that they are not readily available in Siri's lexicon. Johnson is also asking great questions such as "is Siri gay-friendly?" and how it reacts to questions related to HIV testing (note, the link I provide for Shelagh Johnson does not go to her critique of Siri, but to a series of interviews about her work. Her inquiry into this issue has, for now, been limited to Facebook).

For now, all we know is that Siri is not too helpful for those seeking certain reproductive health services. Let's hope this flaw is corrected with newer versions or a patch. After all, I would not be surprised if young persons will rely on Siri for the answers to very important questions that will have long-term impacts on their health.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Naughty or Nice? Teens on social networking sites

I am woefully behind, and therefore just now reading the report from Pew released November 9th: How American teens navigate the new world of "digital citizenship." Some things that strike me:
  • While I am glad that majority of young people (69%) say that their peers are "mostly nice to each other" on social networking sites, I am disturbed that 1 in 5 state that young people are mostly mean and another 11% stating that "it depends." In other words, almost 1 in 3 teens can't say that young people are mostly nice. That is a problem.
  • Almost all (90-95%) of teens say they ignore online cruelty when they see it. And 21% say that they "join in" when witnessing it.
I guess I am not surprised by that second bullet point -- at least when it comes to ignoring. It's what happens with other forms of bullying. In face-to-face environments, bullying/name calling/exclusion are seen every day at school, and youth just turn their heads, hoping it goes away, hoping it doesn't happen to them. And the joining in? That saddens me more for sure, but I can see similar motivations that drive people to ignore fueling those who are just a little more insecure, a little more scared, to jump into the fray. After all, if you are mean to someone, then perhaps the attention is directed away from you as the potential next target. Given that bullies are often bullied, there is some support for this argument.

And while it can be shocking to think of the passivity that supports (and condones?) cruelty, it's also understandable. A young person's desire to fit in is strong and developmentally appropriate. And right now, adults certainly don't provide good role models for speaking out against those who exude power inappropriately. Celebrities fights, demeaning radio show hosts, a divided Congress, and the way in which Occupy Wall Street protests are being handled, are all examples of how those in power matter and are listened to. And in all these instances, power is equivalent to putting someone else down.

If we don't redefine power and what it means to be important, how can we expect youth to do it for those of us who supposedly know better?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tooting my own horn -- and finding it's limits

I had the pleasure (and I mean it!) to work with Elizabeth Bernstein as she wrote her Wall Street Journal column, Skip the 'Talk" about Sex, Have an Ongoing Dialogue. Bernstein was genuinely interested in conveying the best information on how parents should talk to their children about sex in the limited space of a newspaper column. And while my last quote is definitely truncated:

"[Parents] should talk more about pornography. 'Talk to them about why you don't like it: It's unnatural and unloving,' Portland State's Dr. Gowen says" (What I said in my conversation with Bernstein was that pornography does not portray sex in a realistic manner, features bodies that are often artificially altered, and shows sex outside of the context of a loving relationship).

I think the overall messages about talking to children about everything and doing it on an ongoing basis came through loud and clear.

Then my phone rang.

I picked it up with my usual greeting and there was a parent on the other end of the line. He wanted to know more about how to deal with a sexting issue he was facing with his daughter (I didn't ask for details). Although no expertise was attributed to me about this particular topic, it was mentioned in the paragraph where my pornography "quote" resided. So, by proxy I suppose, I was the person to call.

He wanted to know about resources for parents of children who have already been involved in a sexting incident. Despite my almost savant-like ability to quote statistics and resources related to youth sexuality (think Dr. Spencer Reid from Criminal Minds), I was stumped. I gave him some possible resources -- MTV's A Thin Line and Nancy Willard, and wished him the best.

Not satisfied, I got on Google and tried to uncover what I did not know. And discovered I was really looking for something that did not exist. To date, all I can find are resources (some much better than others) that give parents tips on what to do to prevent sexting, but not what to do once it already has happened. Which, in my opinion, is just as important. But most likely not something columnists and health sites want to think about.

Is this my new mission? Possibly. At least this void will stick with me for a little while.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Straight from the Source: A Youth View of Social Networking Woes

I love reading essays published by youth. In fact, part of my job consists of working with young writers and getting their work published either online or in print, and it's extremely rewarding and educational. So I could not resist sharing this post (on Huff Post High School, but originally on TeenInk) from a young person who discusses how her addiction to Facebook interferes with her daily life as a student. While scholars continue to debate on the issue, it's nice to actually listen to a narrative about experience rather than generalities every once in a while.

The author discusses her struggles with time suck -- being drawn into social networking at the expense of getting her assignments done efficiently:

"When I sit down to write an essay, it can take me almost an hour to start my work. “Just one quick look at Facebook,” I think to myself. I then end up on the website for an extended period of time."

She also gets even more serious when she discusses the need to maintain popularity, but in a way that is essentially false camaraderie:

"These websites are addicting because they give a false sense of community. Users are tricked into believing that they are part of a close group...People become addicted to the high they get when someone acknowledges them on these websites." 

Even as an, ahem, "older" adult, I can fall into this trap. I sometimes wonder why a particular post of mine goes unnoticed, when I find it highly amusing and/or inspiring; it disappoints me for that moment (I think that's the strongest word I can honestly write about my reaction, though sometimes my reaction can increase to "bummed"). Conversely, I can feel giddy when I see lots of people responding to something that I posted, especially when I didn't expect anyone to really notice (So why even do it? That's a question for another time).

While this story is not meant to infer that all young people suffer from these issues, I think it's important to be reminded that there are young people who are struggling with, not always embracing, social networking.  And since socializing online is an integral part of the ways in which communities are formed and maintained, it's important to understand where and when frustration and disconnect exist for youth -- those whom older folk often assume celebrate such connections the most.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Need to Connect

This weekend is my 25th High School Reunion. For many reasons, I decided not to go -- mostly time, cost, and distance. But there is another reason: To some extent, thanks to social networking, I already feel that I am caught up enough with my classmates, those with whom I was not close, but in whose well-being I am still interested. I see their lives flash before my eyes in the form of baby pictures, complaints about work, news posting that reflect their ideals.

My class even set up a "private" group in which we share more specific memories and photos (I put "private" in quotes, because I really feel like I can't trust the privacy of anything online, but boy I sure hope most of those pics stay behind closed doors!). In many ways, this group made me even more excited to attend the reunion, while at the same time sated my desire to. All in all, I am sure I will miss some laughs, but I am OK with not attending.

I wonder how reunions are going to be perceived among the younger generations. Will they even be seen as necessary? Will they be conducted remotely? Or will they be even more important because no one will have lost touch in the first place?

The idea of connecting via social networking, especially when Facebook and other sites first launched, was an abrupt, novel experience. Within minutes of setting up a profile, I had several friend requests and I was suddenly being (re)introduced to people from my past who were reaching out. And I had a great time thinking of people I wanted to reach out to and thrilled in perusing their pages when they accepted the connection.  This sudden onslaught of faces and memories is not really a part of younger people's experiences. The people they know will be connected to them online from the very beginning. There will be no online "reunion" with the initial establishing of a social networking presence. The whole concept of "hello" and "goodbye" has changed.

This can be seen in the decline of the yearbook. What was once an essential piece of nostalgia may become nostalgia itself. Why reference an old book when you can see pictures old and new on a screen?

Writing this post makes me sad that I am going to miss sharing stories and creating new ones at our old-town watering hole. But I know that I'll at least be able to see what's going within minutes of it all happening. Question is, will that be enough, or will it make me feel even more isolated from the group? And, to draw the parallel to youth today: When they see pictures of an event from which they couldn't attend or were excluded, where does that leave them?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Getting to Know You

This post is going to be slightly off topic from my usual focus, but I think it's important to consider as we all continue to conduct fundamental tasks online, and also develop relationships in cyberspace. Many of us shop, bank, and get our news online. More and more people are beginning to get an education over their computer. This study conducted in 2010 stated that 1 in 4 college students took at least one course online. And that rate certainly is not going to decrease any time soon.

It's this education piece that is extra important to me. I have been a university faculty member on and off since 1998, and have been teaching courses in Human Sexuality since 1990 (gasp). Currently, I teach Human Sexuality online at Portland State University. Currently, PSU only offers one program in which students can complete all aspects of the degree online (although several online courses are offered in many departments). I have had students from not only the east coast, but also overseas. I have had students who have taken my course while incarcerated. Pretty amazing, if you think about it.

I recently encountered a serious limitation to online education -- one I hadn't really thought of before. I received an email from a former student asking for a letter of recommendation. Although I am sure this student was enrolled in my class, I have no recollection of her whatsoever. She was literally just a user name among approximately 130 that I managed for 10 short weeks. Sure, I could look up her grade and even reread her papers, but I honestly have no way of knowing whether or not this person would succeed in law school.

In the past, I have had many students who only had me as an instructor for one quarter in a campus-based class ask me for a letter of rec. And sometimes (alright, usually), I oblige, but at least I recognize the student's face; I have some sense of who that person is, and how she conducted herself in my class; how she treated other students, and how she carries herself as a scholar. She may have even stopped by my office hours, or lingered after class to ask additional questions. I can ask her to have coffee, or come to my office so we can talk more about her aspirations and why she wants to continue her education.

I am realizing I have no sense of connection to any of my past online students. For any of them to ask me for a letter of rec seems utterly ridiculous to me, as none of them have ever written to me to discuss the course above and beyond asking for an extension or complaining about an assignment. In the years to come, this is going to be a bigger and bigger problem. Students are going to continue to take classes online, and colleges are going to continue to provide this option, as it is both desired and more profitable (at least from what I hear and assume, given that universities appear to be eager to increase online offerings).

What needs to be stressed to students by both instructors and the university itself is the importance of cultivating relationships online, since they aren't going to happen face to face. It's possible to get to know someone online, of course. I have developed some good professional relationships with people online that I have never (or only once) met in person. I feel I know these people well enough not only through their work, but through their character such that I would jump at the chance to collaborate with them on a project, should the opportunity arise. Students need to be made aware of the importance of getting to know their instructors, and understand that instructors need to know them above and beyond a score on an exam, or how well a thesis was articulated in a paper.

I can't write a letter of recommendation for you if I don't know you. And I can't know you if all I associate with you is a score between 0-100. Online students -- reach out to your instructors and share yourselves (as you so often do in other venues). Raise that social capital: Your future depends on it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Why is it so easy to hurt someone?

A recent poll co-sponsored by the AP and MTV reveals some disturbing, though perhaps not surprising figures. Over half (55%) of the teens and 20-somethings surveyed say they have seen people being mean to each other on social networking sites, and half see discriminatory words (e.g. "slut" or a racial slur) or images on those sites.

Yet 41% of these young women are offended by the word "slut" -- 65% are offended if the word is used to describe themselves -- 60% of African American youth would be offended if they saw the N-word being used against other people. Put another way, young people commonly engage in, and witness, behavior that hurts and offends their peers.

So what gives? Good old basic psychological theory which includes the disinhibition effect and dissociative anonymity, both described extremely well here by researcher John Suler, explains a lot of this phenomenon. In a nutshell, these theories explain the ease of name-calling online this way: it's easier to type words than say them out loud because writing is a more indirect form of communication than speaking. It's especially easier to write words on a computer screen than to say them out loud right in front of another human being. This is because I don't see the emotional response to the person. I don't have to defend myself in a physical environment if people disapprove of my actions. In short, I am shielded from the immediate effects of my actions, so it's easier to perform them.

And then enter the bystander effect.  This is when a bunch of people witness something horrible and/or dangerous (an assault, a burning building, a car accident), yet no one does anything to intervene, figuring that others will do it instead -- this is diffusion of responsibility. In short, the larger the audience, the less likely intervention will occur. Given the potentially hundreds, if not thousands of witnesses to name calling on a social networking site, who are also influenced by the disinhibition effect, it's no wonder cyberbullying runs rampant and no one does anything to stop it!

Cyberbullying is so toxic because it feeds off of human nature, so in order to stop it we have to be more deliberate in our approach and address it head-on. We have to teach people about our inclinations and how to fight them. We need to focus on empathy, understanding, and our circles of influence -- we need to think outside of ourselves. Because our instincts are going to lead us to be just another bystander in cyberspace.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Comments of Passion

I love that term -- it pretty much captures the reasons for flaming, sexting, and other regretful internet sharing moments. I read this phrase in a post by Margarita Tartakovsky, where she pretty much shares the work of Dr. Tristan Gorrindo.

The overall message: Think before you post something that might not be so smart to have forever captured in cyberspace. What should a person think about is summed up in the acronym "WAIT" -- for Wide audience (who and how many might read this?), Affect (what emotions am I feeling right now and am I able to make a rational decision?), Intent (will I be understood properly?), and Today (Can this wait a day?).

While I see the benefits to this brief series of considerations, some don't seem to fit. The main one being "today." The answer to the question "Can this wait a day?", for the most part, will always be "no." The internet and social networking are so immediate, that waiting a day to post a comment is akin to saying something in an empty room -- no one, including the immediate recipient of the comment -- will ever see it. While I am all for thinking about the consequences of posting something before actually doing it, perhaps the "T" should really be for "Tomorrow" as in "How will I feel tomorrow after everyone reads my post?"

And I totally agree with Tartakovsky's statement that adults can benefit from following these steps just as much as youth. In my own Facebook account, I have read posts about drunken vomiting, pubic hair, and baby poop. Wonder how many of those posts I would have read if someone WAITed before they broadcast those news items?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Facebook beefs up security: Some good, some stuff needs work

Facebook is undergoing some pretty interesting and I think beneficial changes to its Facebook security and privacy settings. My friend and colleague Anne Collier summarizes them quite well in her Net Family News blog (if you do not get her weekly newsletter, you REALLY should!). Here are some highlights:
  • Users will have the ability to approve a post or photo right before it's visible to others.
  • Users will be able to choose a setting in which they can approve or not approve a tag someone else makes before it goes live.
Why are these changes so great? Because it provides a moment of pause before something goes public. A user can think for that one more second as to whether what they are about to broadcast is a good idea or not. In other words, it's a concrete and immediate reminder as to what is about to happen.

The bonus will be if we can somehow communicate that point directly to the youth and young adults who might benefit from it most.

And speaking of youth, Facebook has also just published Own Your Space: A Guide to Facebook Security. Supposedly, its audience is "Young Adults, Parents, and Educators," but I would be shocked if they consulted any youth before putting that document online: 14 pages of text and graphically sparse, it falls far short of being youth friendly. If Facebook truly wants to reach out to those younger users, it's going to have to revise that manual into something that will actually be read.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fandom + internet = new lows

Here's another example that supports my belief that the internet does not really offer up anything new when it comes to youth expressing their sexuality, instead simply repackages old phenomena -- albeit sometimes in an amplified format:

Teens in Mexico are allegedly auctioning off their virginity in order to score Justin Bieber tickets. This horrifies me in many ways. The obvious one: Justin Bieber. Really? The second one: the concept that sex is seen primarily as a commodity. Auctioning off one's virginity is not a new idea, but what I don't like is that there are so many messages nowadays that stress sex as a product more than an experience people share with each other. This concept can be seen in both the abstinence-until-marriage movement as well as the "pornification" of youth today. The third one: That the news would choose to cover this idea, which in and of itself glamorizes the situation. I guess I'm to blame now, too, since I am calling attention to it by writing about it. My bad.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Do we really know how social networking impacts youth?

A plenary presentation at this year's American Psychological Association's convention is getting a lot of press (in part due to the APA's own press release). The talk, entitled “Poke Me: How Social Networks Can Both Help and Harm Our Kids,” highlights of the talk, at least according to the press release, include findings such as:

  1. Teens who use Facebook more often show more narcissistic tendencies while young adults who have a strong Facebook presence show more signs of other psychological disorders, including antisocial behaviors, mania and aggressive tendencies.  
  2. Daily overuse of media and technology has a negative effect on the health of all children, preteens and teenagers by making them more prone to anxiety, depression, and other psychological disorders.

 The research nerd in me sees the first statement as more "mild" than the second for one main reason: The first statement simply shows associations.  An association, in teens, between being full of oneself and being on Facebook more often. In young adults, hanging out on Facebook more is associated with being anti-social and having mania. Those statements make sense to me -- you can see how those characteristics go together, but there is no indication that being on Facebook causes narcissism, mania (which can result in not being able to sleep and thus being online more), and/or anti-social behavior.

Then, there is that second bullet -- the one that makes me nervous and even angry. First of all, what is "overuse"? How many hours constitute that concept? Second, the phrase “has a negative effect” implies that the researcher studied young people over time – and if that happened, how long a time? I would love to see that actual study so I can answer those questions for myself.
Finally, the word “all” – really? Every single child, tween, and teen is going to be prone to anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns by “overusing” Facebook? Wow. Never in my life have I heard a researcher claim that a phenomenon impacts every single person. Think of all those chain smokers that manage to not get lung cancer, for example.
Most of you will probably think that I am being a little too picky here, but I think it’s important to point out how these phrases can mislead reporters. I understand that most reporters are not trained in research – that’s OK. But, to feed them such broad generalizations is nothing short of dangerous and irresponsible. Which, in turn, misleads the public. I will take back everything I say here if somehow “overusing” Facebook causes every single young person mental harm, but until then, shame on you APA.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Readin', Writin', and...Sex?

Nice article in Salon challenging the "alarmist" findings that over half of young adult novels have sexually explicit content in them -- which ranges from Rated G kissing to sexual intercourse. And, according to Salon columnist Tracy Clark-Flory, the study authors seem to find this problematic (note: I was not able to locate the study or even the abstract, so I am commenting on something through hearsay in this post).

I can only scratch my head in wonder over their concerns. Let's see, what was I reading when I was a young adult? Oh yeah. There was the 1975 classic Forever, by Judy Blume, which told the story of a teen losing her virginity. Tame stuff. Then there were the VC Andrews books that made the rounds in my school -- these lovely tales featured sexual exploration among siblings locked in an attic. Finally, there were Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles, telling sexual tales of all sorts, including a relationship between two vampires -- one of whom was embodied in a 8-year-old girl. While I admittedly have not read many of the young adult novels that are reviewed for this recent study, I cannot imagine the current sexual exploits are more fringe than the ones I read growing up. But correct me if I'm wrong.

And let's not forget what teens are writing themselves. I wrote this post  sometime back about youth-authored fanfiction. If we shield teens from sexual content, then they are going to just make their own. Or find it somewhere else. So, let's not be too concerned when a young person buries their nose in a book. At least their vocabulary might increase.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I wanna live forever...

Fame! The biggest priority among youth these days? Take the New York Times article on how some young teens are becoming cultural phenomenon within a matter of days. Or 23-year-old "internet sensation" Dia Frampton, who originally got her fan base through You Tube, but then gained even more popularity by being the runner-up on NBC's The Voice. I'm sure there are many other examples, but I, alas, am not all that great when it comes to pop-culture savvy.

And then there's the research. Recent work out of the Children's Digital Media Center at UCLA finds that "fame" is the number one value conveyed in television shows targeting 9-11 year olds in 2007. This is in sharp contrast to the top value of "community feeling," which topped the list from 1967 all the way through 2006. And a survey of adults by Dr. Jean Twenge revealed that 10% of young adults (in their 20s) had experienced symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, as compared to only 3% of Seniors.

So, why all the focus on the self? It's possible that the simple answer is "because we can." The internet (especially social networking) can cause an individual to reach a vast number of people exponentially, something that probably couldn't be done a decade ago, and most certainly was unobtainable a generation ago. Pair that with the normative developmental stage of egocentrism often found in teens and young adults, and their tech-savvy, and the recipe is perfect for this storm.

The question I have is, "is this focus on fame inherently a problem?" Part of me says no, simply because to some extent, as I stated above, such focus on the self is pretty typical of youth. Plus, this focus could help increase self-esteem, sense of well-being, and maybe even a sense of purpose and obligation. For example, 14-year-old Benni Cinkle has used her new-found fame to help non-profit organizations. Where's the harm in that?

On the other hand, not having such notoriety -- despite, perhaps, trying hard to achieve it through a clever blog or video -- could backfire on a young person and threaten their sense of self. "After all, if all these peers I hear about on the news can gain such followings, why can't I?" goes the thought process.

It all comes back to a basic reality: There is always someone out there who is "cooler" than you. They have more friends, a better voice, nicer hair, a more impressive jump shot, a more noble cause. If we can convey that basic fact to youth (and heck, to people of all ages), perhaps there would be less focus on fame. And, it would probably help if the media catering to the tweens didn't think it was so great, either.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Obsession with the Worst Case Scenario

Great blog post about how the media loves to focus on the scandal and tragedy associated with online interactions, but really, for the most part, youth handle themselves just fine in cyberspace. I LOVE this conclusion by author Elissa Strauss:

"This hysteria about what the web does to teenage sexuality, without any proof beyond a few salacious anecdotes that there is something to fear, sends a bad message to teenagers, and especially the teenage girls among them. It replicates the whole virgin/whore, genie-in-a-bottle notion of sexuality that, once unleashed, cannot be tamed. Where are stories about teenage girls who discover their sexuality but don’t lose control?"

I guess young people acting responsibly doesn't make for good ratings. Too bad, because I bet there are a lot of them out there.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Do Teens Trust the Internet or Not?

No sooner do I post the results of a study that state most teens are "wary" of the sexual health information they find online, than a new study from north of the border comes out that states 40% of teens find the internet a more useful source than their parents. But beware, parents! Also from Canada is this finding -- that 45% of respondents to an online survey consider their parents to be their sexuality role model compare to 32% who looked to their friends and 15% who use celebrities (at least we can take solace in that statistic!).

About 25% of respondents say the internet is a better source of information than their sex ed classes.

These studies may not be that contradictory, however. Both highlight the strong trust youth have in their school-based sex ed programs, and both do ultimately point to skepticism about the helpfulness and trustworthiness of the sexual health information found online. And the commonalities don't end there -- both report on relatively small sample sizes (though one is from the US and one from Canada).

As more evidence appears the picture may become less foggy.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Is Sexting by any other Name Still Wrong?

It's still all over the news, but in case you've been avoiding media or vacationing in Fiji for the past few weeks, here's a summary: Congressional Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY) sends randy photos of himself through social networking to young women. Denies it. Then says computer was hacked. Then 'fesses up and loses job. Journalists are all over the story, and one wonders if his name didn't contribute exponentially to interest in the incident.

And with this juicy news item comes a lot of commentary about how to address sexting with youth. Because, you know, even though Weiner is a full-fledged adult, the story always comes back to youth making stupid mistakes. Adults apparently don't need to be told about the dangers of the internet, though I am coming this close to suggesting that Congress hold a mandatory orientation on social networking and its proper usage.

Among all the usual comments about the importance of talking to your teen about sex and sexting (though a tired mantra, I do support the idea that this news story is a GREAT icebreaker for parents to talk to their kids about what can potentially happen if you send a photo to someone online) are danah boyd's reflections, which are particularly insightful, as they address full-on the complexity of the issue. Her talk is long, but it contains TONS of great information. I think the important takeaway here is that we are still immersed in laws that punish the sender of erotic images, even though the motives for sending them can vary tremendously.

I believe that investigating the motives behind the act of sexting is crucial to crafting effective laws and policies related to this behavior. I commented about the importance of differentiating between different types of sexting before, but it bears repeating. Two essential questions:

1. Is the person sending pictures of themselves or others? If self, it's possible that no punishment is necessary (unless that person was coerced into sending the picture -- then punishment may apply to the person doing the coercion). If others, the incident needs to be looked at more closely.

2. Was was the intent behind the sending? boyd provides case studies of several motivations behind sexting including to gain approval, to be romantic, to shame or hurt someone. There are countless other reasons, but considering a few of the major ones can help shape policy.

Knowing the answers to the above questions on a case-by-case basis can help us come up with solutions as to "what to do about it." It also might cause us to reflect on the "it" -- sexting -- and conclude that we should expand our vocabulary to call out the different types. Most crimes don't have names that can be used for legal and illegal acts: "murder," " stealing," "espionage" -- these terms are pretty much used when someone breaks a law.

So perhaps "sexting" can be the legal term, and we can come up with a term for sending sexually explicit pictures illegally. Or maybe it's best to do it the other way around, since "sexting" has such a negative connotation already. Whatever the solution, creating labels to distinguish categories can help the public see that this behavior is more complex than many realize.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Who can you trust?

A study of 58 teens found that about a third of them look up information about contraception online, and "most"  were "wary" of the accuracy of the information. Incidentally, these teens also said they get a lot of information about contraception from friends, but they are just as unreliable a source.

In contrast, teens said that they felt the information they received at school could be trusted. This is too bad, because many abstinence until marriage sex ed programs contain inaccurate information about condoms. And while parents are often cited as a source teens want to hear from, conversations between parents and their children can be awkward, few, and far-between. Also, it's not really safe to assume parents have the information -- after all, their parents probably did a poor job of talking to them and that ignorance is passed down from generation to generation.

So, where do we turn as parents or youth? Oh yeah, to the internet. It has all the information one needs. Or, you could always ask a friend.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Coming Out: Too Good Not to Share

Just posting the New York Times feature, Coming Out, featuring the stories of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth. Although inspired by violence, this coverage, which includes the voices of youth involved in the military, their church, and daily life, shows that there can be peace. The main video stories are inspiring, but the reader submissions remind us that not everyone is supported.

Thanks to the internet, everyone can read, learn from, and share these stories. Silence can be broken, people can see that they are not alone, and hopefully a better understanding of sexual and gender orientations can begin to break down the fears so many people have about these typical teens who are so much more than who they love or how they present themselves.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Youth's Voice Rings True

Thanks to my Google News Alert, I was notified of this wonderful post by Layla Smith, a HS youth in Maryland. Her article, "Parents Just Don't Understand," is about how technology has changed the way teens live. And, if my interpretation is correct, she seems to believe that her generation is faster, more immediate, and as a result, she feels less in control of her life.

Her opening paragraph sums it up quite well:
"Today, we live in a generation where everything is not what it used to be. Today’s teens want things bigger, better, and faster, with a constant need to be entertained and fascinated. If these criteria aren’t met, it just seems wrong.  With this fast-paced generation out there one question comes to mind:  Do parents really understand what it’s like to be a teenager during these rapid changing times?"

The rest of her article goes on to somewhat blame adults for a youth's need to have everything right here and right now. To some extent, I can perceive this as "typical" adolescence, where a somewhat developmentally egocentric mind feels that her problems are larger than life, and not her fault. But, then again, Ms. Smith has a point -- as she writes, teens did not make all this new technology: adults did. And, most of the marketing and hype that has been generated around all these new gadgets is the product of adult minds whose primary goal is to sell things to teenagers by convincing them that it's essential to participate and purchase in this new technological world.  And, given that teens are socialized to believe that fitting in and looking good matter it their fault that they buy into the madness? Smith states, "As teens, we can’t control everything around us, and sometimes we have no other choice but to follow what is happening around us...This generation, Generation Z, seems to be completely unsheltered; everything is pushed in our faces and the only choice is to accept it." 

While I am still pondering whether or not teens have a real "choice" as to whether to accept or reject all this technology and its related promotions, I do know that if the thoughts of this teen ring true with many of her peers, then we as adults need to find out how we can best serve these youth by telling them it's OK to step back, slow down, and ask themselves how this technology can best meet their needs and support their lives.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

"The Right to be Forgotten"

This Forbes article is a great premise for some sort of psychological thriller movie or Grisham novel -- but it's grounded in some semblance of reality. It highlights the idea -- bandied about by policymakers and advocacy groups such as Common Sense Media -- of allowing us to "erase" our internet histories. Wish you hadn't posted that unflattering 3rd grade school picture? Poof -- take it down. What were you thinking when you wrote all about your ex in that blog? No worries -- just erase the whole thing. And that YouTube clip of you trying to re-enact the entire season finale of Lost after a few too many? Fear no longer....

Sure we can already take down the stuff we posted on our own, without any laws or protections needed. But what if that blog post goes viral? What if your wild high school buddy lacks any filters when deciding to post those keg party moments? What if someone shares a video of you again, and again, and again? "Right to be Forgotten" laws would allow for the deletion of ALL references to material about you not needed for "legitimate purposes" (so forget about fantasizing about getting rid of your online billing or credit score..).

On some level, this makes sense. After all, if I don't like something publicly available, and it's about me, I should be able to get rid of it. Especially if I posted it in the first place. Don't I have the right to retract? However, as writer Adam Thierer states, such actions would be a huge violation of freedom of speech. Not to mention technologically impossible (as of now).

But the law does have some appealing applications. All those posts written by cyberbullies could be gone just like that. And easily erased if re-posted, thus discouraging future attempts. If someone is trying to change after being afflicted by addiction, or involved in a gang, they can remove that social networking history to avoid stigmatization.

Bottom line is, though, that there is no such law and probably will never will be. And people DO have the right to express themselves (within certain limits) and we have the right to access information, no matter how unsavory. So, we should think about every post we make before putting them up there for everyone to see. And share. Because, once it's up there, you lose control over its future, and to some extent, your past.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Not all sexting is the same

Love this! A recent report from the Crimes Against Children Research Center in New Hampshire does something sensible and useful (not an easy feat in the research world). Using data from several sources, it delineates between two types of sexting -- (1) "experimental," in which a young person takes a picture of themselves willingly for the purpose of pursuing romance or for sexual experimentation -- both of which are considered normative, and (2) "aggravated," in which there is either adult involvement and/or "intent to harm" whether through force, malice, and/or bullying.

Why is this so important? Because it helps law makers determine which instances of sexting should be prosecuted! Only those considered "aggravated" would be considered to result in any legal recourse. "Experimental" sexting would not be considered legally (though educators/parents/trusted adults may want to intervene as a teachable moment).

While I may be oversimplifying this, I think it's a great start to determining how to protect -- not punish -- youth who are simply using tools available to them to establish and maintain romantic and sexual relationships. And what teen doesn't want to do that?

Friday, March 18, 2011

The internet just "is"

Nice summary of research by academics Patti M. Valkenburg and Jochen Pete, who have written numerous articles about youth online. In their current research, these two scholars conducted a review of all research done to date on teens online and concluded that the Internet isn't necessarily a positive or negative influence. It is just a tool to use -- for good or evil. They write ""Instant messaging can help them exchange intimate information with their close friends, thereby stimulating the quality of these friendships. However, it is also widely used for cyberbullying and online harassment. Likewise, online social support groups can help adolescents with social or health problems, but at the same time they can also result in dangerous interactions with strangers."

"Nuff said. As I and many others have been positing for years, we cannot portray the internet as this scary world from which we need to protect our youth. Instead, we need to work with our youth to provide them with positive environments and good role models so that they are more prone to use technology (and their lives) to promote themselves and others, not bring each other down.

Friday, March 04, 2011

The Internet May Reach Those Who Others Simply Can't

I Want the Kit, a website that offers free chlamydia tests is only available in a few select areas (Alaska, Denver, CO, Maryland, West Virginia, Philadelphia, PA, Washington, DC and parts of Illinois), but it seems to make a big impact. About half its users are under 23 -- not surprising since this is the demographic that is most at-risk for STIs, most likely to go online, and most likely to lack access to insurance and have no other place to go for health care.

A study out of Johns Hopkins found that women who sent tests into I Want the Kit had infection rates between 4-15% -- positive tests mostly came from those who rarely get health check-ups and have limited or no health insurance. For comparison, 3-6% of women who get tested at family planning clinics test positive for Chlamydia infections. So, rates are higher for those who choose the online test. But that simply could be due to the age bracket -- or is it something else?

Another study out of UCLA looked at the internet habits of homeless youth. They were surprised to find that almost 80% of these young people use social networking at least weekly. The potential downside of this usage is that over 20% percent of sexually active participants reported having found a sex partner online in the past  three months, and more than 10% engaged in "exchange sex" — trading sex for food, drugs or a place to stay.

However, those who used social networking to meet sexual partners were also more likely to discuss safer sex practices. And homeless youth who used social networking in general were more likely to have been tested for HIV and STIs.

So, maybe there is something else about the people who go online to get information about sexual health. They might simply be the people who know they need resources, but aren't sure where else to go to get them. And that's not such a bad finding after all.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Defining "Vulnerable" Children

A report from EU Kids Online (a research group which studies the online behaviors of youth from 25 different European countries) finds that about half of 11-16 year olds at least somewhat agree with the idea that it is easier to be oneself online than it is in a face-to-face environment; 12% say the statement is "very true."

This finding is interesting in and of itself, though in some sense not that surprising. Behind a screen, it can be easier to share feelings, disclose information about oneself -- the computer provides somewhat of a protective shield (at least temporarily) from the potentially negative reactions of peers. In a nutshell, this is what the disinhibition effect of social psychology is all about. In the long term, however, with the prevalence of cyberbullying (and online communication in general), this apparent protection can break down quite easily as one's disclosures in the form of posts, texts, and pictures can more easily and quickly be spread, making a secret public knowledge in no time.

The study's researchers frame their findings in a somewhat fear-based framework. They state that the 12% who more strongly believe they can be themselves online are:
  • "more likely to have problems with their peers, suggesting that they are seeking online relationships to compensate for offline ones;
  • more likely to look for new friends online, to‘add’ people or send personal information to people that they haven’t met face to face, or to pretend to be a different kind of person."
What is not known, however, is why those youth have difficulty with their peers in the first place, which I believe is the key to all of this. And the researchers acknowledge their own uncertainties:
"Is it because they have personal or social difficulties in relating to people face-to-face, so the internet compensates in some way? Or is it because they spend a lot of time online and this leads them to feel more at home in an online environment?"

My own hunches lean me towards the former possibility -- there is something about their social environments that drives them to seek acceptance online. After all, it isn't hard to believe that 12% of youth find it difficult to be accepted in the social circles they encounter on a regular basis. In fact, that number might even be low if we are simply looking at feeling included as a youth, possibly demonstrating the resilience of young people.

Yet, this publication makes the assumption that stronger connections online are not to be desired and tries to further examine what is special about the youth who are more comfortable being themselves online than offline. Age and gender aren't huge factors. But peer problems are -- those youth who report more problems with peers are more likely to "find it easier to be myself on the internet."

Solutions? None that are easy. Promoting acceptance of all youth regardless of their attractiveness, "coolness," sexual orientation, gender identity, mental and/or physical challenges, would be ideal. But is it possible? As much as I want to say "yes," I fear the immediate answer is "no." But that should not stop us from working towards that goal -- ever. In the meantime, let's not assume that youth who find it easier to express their true selves online as opposed to offline are "vulnerable." Perhaps, given their social environments, they are being resilient and finding communities and persons who welcome them as they are with open arms and monitors.

Note: To access the report, look for the link on "Risky Communication Online" published 2/8/11.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sexting Laws Abound

The uproar over sexting continues -- this time policy makers try to take a stab at curbing the practice of minors sending sexually explicit photos of each other.

1. In Kelso, WA the school board approved a policy that allows for school administrators to confiscate and search a student's phone if there is "reasonable cause" to suspect that the sexting took place at school. Students can face suspension or expulsion if found guilty. I fear that this sort of policy is a slippery slope that can be used to target certain teens; the ACLU is already fighting this as an invasion of privacy -- could these school administrators be charged with the viewing of child pornography (or at the very least, accused of being voyeuristic?) if they keep confiscating phones and having a peek?

2. According to the Huffington Post the New York Department of Education is also trying to ban sexting and students could get in trouble for sending photos from home as well as school.

3. In Texas there is a bill under consideration that would lessen the penalty for youth found guilty of sexting to being found guilty of a Class C misdemeanor for first offenders (currently they might be charged with distribution of child pornography and possibly have to register as a sex offender). While that sounds reasonable, the bill also stipulates that youth and their parents would both have to take educational classes about the "harmful consequences" of sexting. Two things about this seem odd: (1) from a research standpoint, we don't really know what the harmful consequences of sexting are. So, not sure where they are going to get course content from. (2) And what are the parents going to learn? Is the implication here that parents somehow were supportive of the sexting and also need to be told it isn't a great idea? I doubt it. But someone over at The Stir already beat me to making fun of this sort of logic.

This is only the beginning, folks. Look for many new sexting laws and policies being proposed and adopted at the school, state, and possibly even federal level.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Give Them Credit, Give Them Support

A recent article in the New York Times appears to uncover how the internet is impacting middle school romances. Through interviews with some young New Yorkers (note the limited representation), it attempts to reveal how sexting and easy access to porn are shaping how these youth relate to each other, their bodies, and their friends.

I always find these articles fascinating, and usually respect their content -- the Times often tackles an issue related to youth development more in-depth and responsibly than most other news outlets. And for that I am grateful.

However, this time the article goes a little too far in the alarmist direction for my taste. First, let's take the illustrations. Though clearly meant to show what girls are doing these days, they do little more than glamorize the very pictures is admonishes. Second, the article quotes the "statistic" that the average age of first exposure to online porn is 11 -- and doesn't cite the source. Probably because that statistic has long ago been criticized as being total bunk by highly reputable sources.

But mostly, this article bothers me because it simply presents problems (scandals, even) without offering any solutions. Yes, it may be true (we don't have evidence, but it does make sense to believe) that higher access to pornography might create an inaccurate sense of what actual sex is supposed to be like -- but what should we do about it? Can we have intelligent conversations with girls AND boys about how pornography depicts unrealistic expectations of sex in a classroom? At an after school program? Among family members? And yes -- oftentimes the content of cyberbullying focuses on sexual rumor (just like gossip and bathroom wall graffiti in earlier times) -- so why can't we incorporate lessons on cyberbullying in a sex education classroom? And where is the dialog about healthy relationships? It's missing from most of our lives.

To the author's credit, the article does portray girls as having common sense to assess what is right and wrong to do both online and with a boyfriend, and as having a great deal of strength to fight the pressure they feel to sexualize themselves in ways they do not feel comfortable. So, let's give these savvy youth a chance to educate themselves further and critically analyze today's influences on their sex lives so that they embody healthy messages about their own sexual expression and relationships, and pass them on to their peers and partners.

CORRECTION: I misattributed this article to the NYT -- It's actually from New York Magazine. Big difference, and I apologize for the error. It does help explain the tone of the article, though!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"Possession is Nine-Tenths of the Law"

An interesting case here in Oregon sheds light on the concept as to how the internet is completely disrupting the ways in which pornography is defined by law. Earlier this month, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that it is not illegal to look at child pornography online, as long as those images are not downloaded, printed, or paid for. In other words, if you do not actually take some sort of action to "own" the images, you are not in possession of the material, and therefore cannot be punished for simply looking at it. Quoting the article in the Oregonian:

“Looking for something on the Internet is like walking into a museum to look at pictures — the pictures are where the person expected them to be, and he can look at them, but that does not in any sense give him possession of them.” -- Justice Michael Gillette.

Clearly, this protects people who stumble across images they did not intend to view (though for child pornography, how likely is this, really?). However, child pornography laws were first created in the 1970s for the distinct purpose of protecting the actual children (defined as anyone under 18 in 1984 through that year's Child Protection Act) involved in making the materials. It wasn't until 1990, in the case Osborne v. Ohio, that the high courts ruled a state could punish someone for "possessing" the images. The justification of this law was that making it illegal to possess images would decrease the market for them, and thus protect children.

However, as the internet became more established, it was clear that the laws related to child pornography were by no means designed to deal with images distributed electronically. Additionally, there have been several legal battles to define what child pornography actually is. Since earlier laws were written to protect children, what if a person created an image that only looked like a child engaging in sexual acts (using computerized image construction), but in reality no child was actually used in creating the image? With all the programs out there, this is a pretty easy thing to accomplish.

Currently, the courts go back and forth as to whether creating images of child pornography without actually using children is legal. To my knowledge, the legality of childless child pornography is "winning" in most cases, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling in 2002.

Other problems arise in the enforcement of child pornography laws. With the international accessibility of the internet, the United States needs to acknowledge that not all countries have child pornography laws, and even those that do have varying ages of consent and definitions of a "minor." In fact, according to this study, most countries have NO child pornography laws. How can the US uphold its rules about making and possessing child pornography now if it (A) can be made legally in many other countries -- or virtually through computer-generated images, and (B) be accessed online without penalty, as long as the images are not saved or purchased? It's a surprising dilemma.

What hurts the case for restricting child pornography is that there is essentially no research on the effects of its viewers. Such taboo topics need to be examined -- no matter how difficult it is to do so -- if laws restricting access to and viewing of images are to be upheld. Because right now, child pornographers are finding legitimate legal loopholes which allow them to view images. Just so long as they don't store them anywhere.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

School-based Social Workers Unsure about Dealing with Cyberbullying

A recent study reports that almost half of school-based social workers do not feel prepared to handle cases of cyberbullying, even though they recognize it as a problem.

I read this, and felt sad -- mostly because dealing with cases of cyberbullying should not be all that different from dealing with cases of face-to-face bullying. Sure, technology-based bullying may be harder to discover because it's not overhead in the hallways, but the interventions should be the same -- support the youth being bullied, identify perpetrators and decide on adequate consequences for their actions (interesting idea coming out of the UK -- have bullied students help decide punishment). But maybe the fact that 20% of the respondents believed that their school's policy on cyberbullying was inadequate had something to do with them feeling ill-prepared? I honestly don't know how much school personnel rely on policy to back up their actions. Anyone out there want to speak out on that?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Teens view sex information with a critical eye

A new report from Guttmacher staff (summarized here) finds that teens do not consider the internet to be a main source of sexual health information. However, I do want to point out that the sample only consisted of 58 youth, some of whom came from New York, where arguably the access to information from other venues (health clinics, sex ed classrooms, community centers) may be higher than in more remote areas.

Nevertheless, the fact seems to remain that teens prefer more personal sources for information about sex. These include family members (voted number one again as has been found in previous research), school, medical professionals, and friends. While I commend youth for reaching out to more human resources, this fact does concern me because both in the literature and in the community, I have found time and again that the adults mentioned in this previous list are extremely hesitant to talk about sex -- which leaves youth to rely on each other for information. Many parents, doctors, teachers, and other trusted adults express discomfort at the very idea of having "the talk" with youth in their care (note: the idea of "the talk" is not really accurate, as a sex conversation is hardly a one-time thing, but more of a process over many years!).

How can we best reach adults and support them so that they are more comfortable to talk about sex? What resources do they need? I don't fault adults for not starting conversations -- many of them were raised in ignorance and didn't have role models of adults whom spoke openly with them. Adults can't simply start talking about something without guidance -- especially something so value-ridden and complicated as sexual relationships and health.

So the question becomes -- who teaches the teachers? Maybe there are some good online resources...

Actually, there are a few places that have some good basic tips:
Mayo Clinic
Families Are Talking
Children Now

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

California Law Targets Cyberbullying

Happy New Year to All!

'Tis the season for all things new --resolutions, calendars, and laws! In California, there is a new law on the books that makes it illegal to create a fake social networking profile "to harm others." Violation of the law can result in a year jail time and/or up to a $1000 fine.

Will be interesting to see if something like this makes a difference -- probably not until it is tested in courts and people become more aware of it.

CA schools could possibly take advantage of this by connecting it to safe school policies to strengthen those. It's difficult to enforce a bullying policy if the actual bullying takes place either off campus and/or through the use of personal devices such as computers or cell phones. But, perhaps, with this impersonation law, schools can demonstrate that the bullying of students is still against school regulations even if it happens after the bell rings. I'm no lawyer (though I do love me some SVU!), but perhaps this logic will help build a case against a serious offender?