When school officials in Santa Fe, Texas, confiscated dozens of student cell phones in May as they searched for nude photos of two junior high-school girls that were forwarded to numerous students, the incident sparked national attention. But shocking as that incident was, school safety experts say it was merely part of a larger trend that has many parents and educators concerned.
Passing notes in study hall seems quaint by comparison: Nowadays, teenagers nationwide are snapping naked pictures of themselves on their cell phones and sending them to their boyfriends and girlfriends.
Similar cases have been reported in Alabama, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Utah. And many of these pictures are falling into the wrong hands–or worse, everyone’s hands–via the internet and are leading to criminal charges.
"I just don’t understand why kids would do a stupid thing like that," said Rochelle Hoins of Castle Rock, Colo., where 18 students in her twin sons’ middle school sent around nude pictures of themselves last year. "We did dumb things when we were kids, but not like that."
Meanwhile, a new survey suggests the problem might be bigger than many adults realize.
The survey–in which one in five teenage girls admitted to sending or posting revealing photos of themselves online–underscores the need for parents and educators to make sure students know the risks associated with this behavior as part of their internet-safety education.
The issue comes as some educators are working hard to convince others of the pedagogical value of cell phones in schools. During a session at the Consortium for School Networking’s 13th annual conference in March, panelists discussed whether cell phones present an opportunity–or a distraction–for schools. And conference attendees learned that schools in at least one state, North Carolina, have embraced cell phones as tools for instruction.
For North Carolina, the decision to pilot a cell-phone program was a strategic one. North Carolina has a high dropout rate, and the thinking was that perhaps students, who like to use cell phones, might be motivated to stay in school.
"Our goals were to create a 21st-century, tech-literate environment, help students with math concepts, and, of course, raise test scores. We also imagined that we could test the efficiency and viability of cell phones in education, as well as get kids thinking about [science, technology, engineering, and math] careers in the long run," said Frances Bradburn, former director of the state’s instructional technology division.