One of the blogs I read regularly, Webware, posted an article that I thought was interesting, titled “Survey: Teens ‘sext’ and post personal info.” It sums up a recent study of teenagers and digital behavior, particularly focused on cyberbullying and sexting. Some of the data quoted in the article that caught my attention:
59 percent of the teens say that posting personal information or photos on public blogs or social-networking sites is either “somewhat unsafe” or “very unsafe.” Only 7 percent say it’s “very safe,” while 34 percent say it’s “somewhat safe.” Yet, when asked about their own behavior, 62 percent of the kids post photos of themselves, 50 percent share their real age, 45 percent the name of their school, and 41 percent the city where they live. When it comes to more private information, only 4 percent post their address, 9 percent “places where you typically go,” and 14 percent post their cell phone number.
The study’s executive summary explains, “Though they are aware of the risks, many teens expose personal information about themselves online anyway.” [emphasis added]
Unfortunately, the article fails to really delve into this issue. Yes, it’s alarming that kids are posting information about themselves. Yes, it’s alarming that 20% of students are somehow involved in cyberbullying. Yes, it’s alarming that 20% of teens have sent or received a “sext.” What I don’t believe is that we are not more worried that kids are making choices that they know are bad ones. They understand that there might be a lot of negative consequences, but they choose to do these things anyway.
Has this kind of behavior from teens been going on for a while? Of course. Kids smoke and drink in spite of knowing both legal and physical consequences. Kids have sex despite knowing all the potential consequences. This has been going on for a very long time. What I don’t understand is why we are so alarmed about cyberbullying or sexting – why aren’t we worried about the underlying causes instead?
We can force kids to take health classes and tell them all about the dangers of smoking, drinking, and sex. We can force kids to take digital citizenship classes and tell them about the dangers of cyberbullying and sexting and sharing too much information. However, in spite of all this instruction, kids are going to choose those things anyway.
The question, then, must then become a deeper one: how do we teach kids to make good choices? We all have students that make bad choices. Some use drugs, some sleep around, some don’t turn in their work, some don’t study for tests. What is it that we can do as educators to move our students towards better decision making?
Normally, this is where I would start answering these questions. The problem is, I don’t have an answer. If I knew how to convince teenagers to make better choices, you would be reading my book and watching my lecture DVDs right now. But I wonder what thoughts others have on this difficult issue. How do we even begin to address this herculean problem?