Revising Antiharassment and E-Mail Policies

Vol. 11 No. 6

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Sexting—sending or receiving sexually explicit images or texts—incidents have been on the rise since 2008. In 2010, sexting concerns in schools started making headlines on a regular basis. Now in 2013, schools are still trying to gain control of harassment lawsuits and negative media. The truth is, no one in your school has the power to control each individual. You will never be able to eliminate the risk completely. But you can protect your school by revising anti-harassment and e-mail policies to include cell phones, cameras, IMs, and texts. Whether you have one policy that covers both students and employees or separate policies for employees and students, it needs to be updated to reflect new risks that these devices represent.

Beyond the risk of costly lawsuits, sexting can endanger students. When used thoughtfully in the course of instruction, cell phones have taken learning to heightened levels—but they have also opened windows to risky behaviors. Sexting is certainly one of them. Over the years, stories of bullying, rapes, and suicides due to sexting have made headlines. Although these stories are talked about daily, teens (and in some cases, even younger students), continue to engage in such communications.

Most mental health professionals tend to agree that in most instances, teens simply don’t understand or comprehend what they are doing. They hear the stories, but they can’t imagine the resulting dangers ever happening to them. Kids can’t typically think situations through as adults can. They’re not emotionally mature enough to do so.

Peer pressure is one of the leading factors in the sexting phenomenon. Remember the game Truth or Dare? Now add technology into the equation. We’ve moved into an era beyond prank calls and confessions of crushes. The stakes are higher. Boyfriends, or even girlfriends, pressure partners with a modern twist of an old saying; “If you love me you’ll send me a picture.” It’s passive-aggressive dating pressure in a digital age!

Let’s not forget about revenge or the pressure from friends to seek revenge in effort to save their own reputation. Scorned young lovers seeking revenge have the tools right in their hand. It’s almost too easy to cave into temptation. A simple click can send an embarrassing image to an entire class of students.

Yet, not all incidents involve participants who know either. Some pictures are taken innocently, some through trickery, and then shared out of context. Students with a knack for technology and arts can alter and modify images to distort their original intention.

Perhaps the most disturbing sexting cases are those involving teachers and students. All instances of sexting can lead to detrimental conclusions. However, when an adult engages in such behaviors with a minor, it can affect the community and the persons involved on a deeper level, exposing their personal lives to thousands, scarring their reputations and future opportunities (college, career, etc.)—to say nothing of the grave reputational and legal risks to the school.

Here are a few recent sexting stories making headlines.
Double-Dog Dares and Sexting: Kids Do It, Do Yours?
Prosecutors Warn Teens About Perils of Sexting
Federal Grand Jury Returns Sexting Indictment
What Penalties Can Teens Face For Sexting?

How can you protect your students and your school against sexting? Much like bullying, sexting is a risk that appears impossible to avert. By educating your students, faculty, and staff members of the dangers involved, you can reduce your risks. However, to fully protect your school against claims and costly lawsuits, you need to have an updated policy addressing your antiharassment and e-mail policies.

Additional ISM resources of interest
ISM Monthly Update for Admission Officers Vol. 10 No. 3 Sexting Risks and Texting Acronyms Every Parent Should Know
ISM Monthly Update for Division Heads Vol. 7 No. 4 No "Sexting" at Your School? It's More Common Than You Think
ISM Monthly Update for Division Heads Vol. 7 No. 1 Teens' Online Interactions Can Put Their Digital Reputations at Risk

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