Sadly, nothing in the Sext Up Kids documentary surprised me. It’s the world I grew up in; kids now use technology to watch porn, to text others inappropriately and to send naked photos of themselves. To illustrate this point, I can remember very vividly in Grade 4 when one of my classmates got into trouble because he visited a sex website at school. Looking back and reflecting on how society is today, I have a much better understanding of why he did this: kids are drawn to all things sexual. All around us, society and pop culture are urging children to look like they are in their late teens. Show skin, wear make-up, have pretty hair! Everywhere, teens are bombarded with images of what they are supposed to look like and many teens are thus interacting with the digital world in order to fulfill these expectations of them.
Take this photo for example. The girl is only ten years old and yet, with her make-up and styling, she could pass for 20. France is taking a heroic approach to this sexualization of children by banning beauty pageants for children but what does it say about our society that we have an obsession for such a think in the first place?
Or, watch this video.
Miley Cyrus was 18 when she made this, finally broadcasting to her much younger fans that her new sexualized look was here to stay. No more was the cute and inspirational Hannah Montana. Instead, her message to fans now was that “She Can’t be Tamed,” doing so while gyrating in a giant bird cage. Cyrus, reflecting many of the sentiments of millions of teenagers her age, wanted to show the world that she wasn’t that Disney princess anymore and that she wasn’t going to let the world’s disapproval of her sexualized look stop her.
Now, let’s turn to Kim Kardashian for a second. One of the most prominent figures in popular culture today and what is she famous for? Many would say it’s for her leaked sex tape that she made when she was 23. And now, she is riding on that wave of momentum, doing a naked cover spread on paper magazine (warning: adult content) and probably making millions of dollars off of her half-naked selfie book. She says that making her start off of her sex tape is one of her biggest regrets but what does that say about society that we let her get so famous because of it? And is she really so sorry if she is still making money off of selling her sexualized image?
These are just some of the examples in popular culture that teenagers see everyday and it’s the internet that makes them more easily accessible. The internet has become a hub where teenagers can gather to create another identity, exploring materials that promote sexualization in the process. Want to know more about sex? There’s sex blogs on YouTube. Want to do what everyone else is doing? Check out some porn. This is the new reality for many students today.
Even for children, who don’t go on the internet to do anything explicit, go to websites where the ads are becoming increasingly inappropriate as much of the restrictions disappear on the internet concerning marketing. Of course, it’s not just the internet whose ads are inappropriate. I’ve been watching TV many times when my mouth has dropped, wondering how close companies are willing to go to attract those young viewers. The Dentyne Ice Commercials have been one of those commercials.
In this article, it says that, through this commercial, the company is trying to be a little more “hip” for kids, hoping that more of them will buy their produce. This shows how sexualized our world really is becoming when a gum company thinks they need to market their product like condoms.
Like Sext Up Kids said, there really is no level of shockability in today’s culture. Kids are exposed to everything on the internet and even if parents try to put controls on what their children see, they will nevertheless hear about it from their friends who have been allowed to explore the internet unrestricted. For kids, it’s becoming just as important to be sexy online as it is to look good in person. Kids assume a kind of X rated persona online because they feel as if they are invincible in the safety of their rooms; they feel fine taking explicit selfies, trying to embody their role-models who appear half naked on magazine covers, or watching porn because they want to know all there is to know about sex. But there are consequences to the lives we live online as what you put on the internet could be potentially life-ruining. In this day and age, you will be held accountable for your identity online yet many teens aren’t aware of this. Instead, they are too wrapped up in their desire to “fit in” and to be “cool.” They don’t want to be the only kid who isn’t into sexting or who isn’t watching porn. The teen years are an incredibly vulnerable time for many kids as, in the attempt to look normal, they will do whatever their peers are doing, even if this means they are jeopardizing their future as a result.
As teachers, do we have a responsibility to help kids navigate through the storm of social media to make them more aware of how their lives could potentially be affected by what they put online? I think so. The concept of digital citizenship is just now popping up as the internet is becoming more and more dominant in people’s lives. Now, schools are putting an increased emphasis on why digital citizenship is important and what the term even means. As you can see, there are many tenants to digital citizenship, all of which include adopting safe and conscientious practices online. As Mike says in his blog, teachers don’t have to be an expert in social media or digital citizenship to be able to teach students how to be responsible online. And not only this, but also how to also use technology for good. I remember when I was young, it was constantly pounded into my head that technology is bad and that nothing good can come out of you putting yourself online. But, in actuality, there are so many positive things that can come out of using technology. For example, before ECMP 355, I never used twitter. I had an account, but I only used it for following celebrities and to read the news. But now, after engaging in #saskedchat and following different educators across the province, I’m now able to garner my own personal learning network and talk to people who can help me in my journey to becoming a teacher. That, in itself, is a pretty awesome use of technology and one that many students could benefit from.
Technology is both a blessing and a curse but, by teachers teaching students more about digital citizenship, kids will be able to see the danger they are putting themselves in by putting inappropriate content online. For many teens, the digital world IS the real world and so I think it would be a disservice to them to not tell them what they need to know about how to adopt safe and positive practices online. It doesn’t need to be an extensive unit, it doesn’t need to be a lesson-planning nightmare: instead, just use your common sense, do a little research and reach out to students about why it’s important to be smart online. Don’t lecture them, but talk with them; tell them what they need to know and give them real life examples. Give them all the information they need so that they can make an informed choice when it comes to deciding whether to RT that racist tweet or whether to post something insensitive on facebook. As teachers, informed choice is the best we can give students.
Those are just my thoughts. What about you? Do you have anything to add about the increasingly dominant part that the internet is playing in teens’ worlds today or about how to teach digital citizenship in schools?