What parents need to know about ‘texting’

4 May

Jan Hoffman does masterly reporting in the New York Times article, A Girl’s Nude Photo, Altered Lives which provides the anatomy of a childhood mistake because of “sexting.”

One day last winter Margarite posed naked before her bathroom mirror, held up her cellphone and took a picture. Then she sent the full-length frontal photo to Isaiah, her new boyfriend.

Both were in eighth grade.

They broke up soon after. A few weeks later, Isaiah forwarded the photo to another eighth-grade girl, once a friend of Margarite’s. Around 11 o’clock at night, that girl slapped a text message on it.

“Ho Alert!” she typed. “If you think this girl is a whore, then text this to all your friends.” Then she clicked open the long list of contacts on her phone and pressed “send.”

In less than 24 hours, the effect was as if Margarite, 14, had sauntered naked down the hallways of the four middle schools in this racially and economically diverse suburb of the state capital, Olympia. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of students had received her photo and forwarded it.

In short order, students would be handcuffed and humiliated, parents mortified and lessons learned at a harsh cost. Only then would the community try to turn the fiasco into an opportunity to educate.

Hoffman goes on to report about the contact the participants had with the criminal justice system and how the prosecutor settled on a criminal charge. This incident has had an effect not only on the immediate participants, but the community as well. This definitely is a must read.

Parents should discuss what happened to the victim with their children:


When the police were finished questioning Margarite at Chinook in January 2010, her mother, a property manager, laid down the law. For the time being, no cellphone. No Internet. No TV.

Margarite, used to her father’s indulgence and unfettered access to technology, was furious.

But the punishment insulated Margarite from the wave of reaction that surged online, in local papers and television reports, and in texted comments by young teenagers throughout town. Although the police and the schools urged parents to delete the image from their children’s phones, Antoinette heard that it had spread to a distant high school within a few days.

The repercussions were inescapable. After a friend took Margarite skating to cheer her up, he was viciously attacked on his MySpace page. Kids jeered, telling him to change schools and go with “the whore.”

The school to which Margarite had transferred when she moved back in with her mother was about 15 miles away. She badly wanted to put the experience behind her. But within weeks she was recognized. A boy at the new school had the picture on his cellphone. The girls began to taunt her: Whore. Slut.

Margarite felt depressed. Often she begged to stay home from school.

In January, almost a year to the day when her photo went viral, she decided to transfer back to her old district, where she figured she at least had some friends.

The episode stays with her still. One recent evening in her mother’s condominium, Margarite chatted comfortably about her classes, a smile flashing now and then. But when the moment came to recount the events of the winter before, she slipped into her bedroom, shutting the door.

As Antoinette spoke about what had happened, the volume on the television in Margarite’s room grew louder.

Finally, she emerged. The smell of pizza for supper was irresistible.

What is it like to be at school with her former friend?

“Before I switched back, I called her,” Margarite said. “I wanted to make sure the drama was squashed between us. She said, were we even legally allowed to talk? And I said we should talk, because we’d have math together. She apologized again.”

What advice would Margarite give anyone thinking of sending such a photo?

She blushed and looked away.

“I guess if they are about to send a picture,” she replied, laughing nervously, “and they have a feeling, like, they’re not sure they should, then don’t do it at all. I mean, what are you thinking? It’s freaking stupid!”

Parents must talk to their children about the appropriate use of technology.

Jessica Citizen (Tecca) has a very parent-friendly Time article, 92 Teen Text Terms Decoded for Confused Parents:

These days, teens are texting more than ever, but the advent of QWERTY smartphone keyboards, predictive text, autocorrect, and the removal of message character limits should allow young social butterflies the opportunity to type full, real words. However, the confusing shorthand continues to live on anyway. With the help of Twitter, the microblogging site that still limits each post to a mere 140 characters, abbreviated slang appears to be here to stay.


Citizen includes a list of the most popular terms in her article.

For those who are unable or unwilling to set and observe personal boundaries, Apple just may bail you out. Alexia Tsotsis is reporting at Tech Crunch, Apple Patents Anti-Sexting Device So, for the stupid and truly clueless, looks like Apple is about to come to your rescue. Common Sense Media has some great resources for parents about teaching children how to use media responsibly. Their information about Talking About “Sexting” is excellent.

We live in a society with few personal controls and even fewer people recognize boundaries which should govern their behavior and how they treat others. Aretha Franklin had it right when girlfriend belted out, “Respect.”

In my day, we didn’t have self-esteem, we had self-respect, and no more of it than we had earned.

~Jane Haddam

Self-respect is the fruit of discipline…

~Abraham J. Heschel

He that respects himself is safe from others; he wears a coat of mail that none can pierce.

~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.

~Frederick Douglass

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

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