I remember the days when I was such a bad kid. I would do things that were so naughty. I once looked up the work “penis” in the dictionary! Wow, I was such a rebel. Imagine what kids nowadays would think of my crazy childhood boldness. Kids do not have paper dictionaries or a stack of encyclopedias. They do not need those antiquated resources because they have Google. Google gives them a window to everything that makes up the world. That window shows good and bad, love and hate, and light and darkness.
Kids have grown up learning about things that our generation never experienced and was never exposed to. We still had our innocence and some would say ignorance. Maybe ignorance IS bliss?
Kids in today’s world cannot be truly shocked. They have seen it on the Internet, on TV or on the big screen. They have seen America’s craziest car chases, shock and reality TV, and Hollywood’s version of how society should be. Some disturbing statistics show that the #4 Internet search term for children, ages 7 & under, is “porn”. It seems like the Internet is the new parent, the new social medium to teach our kids how the world really works and all the sick things within it. Sometimes I feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more.”
So how does this all relate to “Sexting.” Sexting is sending digital or electronic sexually explicit messages or images to another. Adults and children have done it, but we are going to focus on children for the purpose of this discussion.
Sexting started to explode in early 2009 and hasn’t slowed down since. School districts and the adolescent population are plagued by this problem with parents, educators, and law enforcement scrambling to deal with this issue. I hope to shed some more light on how we can understand how kids think. The fact is that if we can understand the way kids think, we may have a better understanding on how to find real solutions to stop sexting.
Why do kids do it? Isn’t this the million-dollar question? Let’s look into this question deeper. Why do kids make unhealthy and destructive decisions? When a kid does something really stupid and after they did the act you ask them: “Why did you do it?” A kid will usually respond with the answer, “Um…I dunno.” Are they lying when they say this? The reality is that they are probably being honest with you. How can this be possible? How can they be honest with the “I dunno” answer?
My good friend and colleague, Andrew Yeager, explained it to me very well. Andrew is a certified School Psychologist for a Jr./Sr. High School and he counsels thirty kids a day. His experience talking to adolescents for the majority of his career has paid huge dividends to cybercrime officers like me. Andrew’s answer is quite simple.
Kids have two brains! Yes, I said that on purpose. Kids have two brains. They have the “classroom” brain and the “heat of the moment” brain. How does this work? The classroom brain is the part of the brain that regurgitates facts that adults want to hear. When you ask Suzy if she will ever smoke cigarettes she says in an automated voice, “Smoking is very dangerous. 365,000 people die from cigarette smoking a year. Second Hand smoke is another deadly killer because…” She is in a controlled environment and giving the standard classroom answer that every teacher or parent wants to hear. Now lets change environments. The “heat of the moment” environment is outside the classroom among other adolescents. Kids are highly influenced on how their peers perceive them and their social status amongst friends ranks high on the “coolness” scale. The classroom brain is turned off and the heat of the moment brain is in full swing.
Kids partake in sexting when the heat of the moment brain is active. The heat of the moment brain does not analyze the consequences of their actions. Their mind doesn’t focus on what adults think or how their behavior can harm or have negative effects on others or themselves. Adolescents that may slightly ponder these concerns, calculate that their status amongst their peers is much more important then getting caught and worth the risk of adults finding out their misdeeds.
We must try to simulate heat of the moment scenarios for adolescents and try to practice healthy and non-destructive decisions that will prevent negative acts such as sexting. Having kids think in their native environment is a healthy way to work through these constant dilemmas that kids are facing. The classroom brain has its place but helping kids cope through the toughest challenges of adolescent social acceptance and peer inclusion / peer pressures are the keys to success.
Maybe I wasn’t the crazy adolescent rebel I thought I was when I looked up word penis in the dictionary? Funny how our perceptions change. Maybe parents can throw water on the wicked witch after all and go back to a time with innocence, ignorance, and bliss? All hail Dorothy!!