What the St. Doms sexting story can teach all of us, especially parents of teens

I’ve long told my children and former teen students that I’m grateful I came of age when I did. I usually list several reasons, and the intent is not to denigrate the circumstances of their generation but to offer the contrast as a starting point for discussions about the challenges and decisions they face now.

Not the least of these is all the constant, instant technology access and communications.

In more lurid versions of similar conversations, a dear friend and I joke about what it would have been like had we had cell phones, selfies and texting back in the experimental, rebellious and somewhat self-destructive days of our youth. I cringe to think about it.

Even before I let my imagination get into details, the idea of it is a terrible thing to think about.

The worst part would have been having to own all that unfortunate documentation over time.

Stock photo

Stock photo

I was thinking about all that when I was reading about some St. Dom’s students getting disciplined for violating the school conduct code. Some media outlets have reported that the violations were in relation to sexting, which is illegal if it involves minors.

I thought the diocese and school handled the issue well. In media reports they were reported to have addressed it immediately, both internally and with the Lewiston police. There were consequences for the violations, but the adults were wise to also see the incident as a teachable moment. Dave Guthro, communications director for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, referred to it as an opportunity “to help in the growing, learning and development of students.”

But I think it’s a teachable moment for all of us, especially parents of teens.

A recent story about a project at a high school in Nashville gave me even more to think about.English teachers at Maplewood High School had his students give up their smart phones for 24 hours. The project involved storing the phones in a cabinet, taking a pledge, and answering questions before and after the 24 hour period. Teacher Jared Amato spoke of students’ relationships with their phones as addictive in nature.

“There’s always a text message to send, there’s always a new picture to see, there’s always a new Snapchat to send. They never get a break. And if you ask them, they really don’t like it, but they almost feel powerless to it.”

After unplugging, the students reported playing outside more, interacting with family more, and almost every student went to bed earlier. Amato said, without their phones, he saw students “looking at each other, smiling, laughing, hitting, flirting, all the normal teenage stuff” that he thinks is getting forgotten. Those are some pretty healthy side effects that wouldn’t hurt any of us.

Our children are just reflections of us, of their communities. If students are struggling to such extents with the decisions around technology, we must be, too. How many of us could unplug for twenty four hours? How many of us make perfect decisions every time with every digital communication?

And to parents, how many of us have told our daughters that the answer to the request for a nude selfie is “no?” And told our sons that such a request is just plain wrong to make? And how many of us have been honest with them about the shortcomings of our own youth in order to help them make healthy choices as they navigate their own?

It’s a lot to think about.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.