Last night, a Seattle radio station aired a report about three of our local teens who made poor choices that may haunt them for a lifetime.
Since then, I have been struggling with how to report about it. The story involves two Edmonds-Woodway High School brothers who, sources told me, took a photo of themselves having sex with a female student, also from EWHS. The photo made the rounds — reportedly via a non-EWHS student — last week on Twitter, which has become an extremely popular way for teens to communicate these days. The Edmonds School District found out about the photo and reported it to Edmonds police.
Because of the age of the brothers and the age of the female student, there are questions about whether state pornography laws were broken. The police investigation is ongoing, and there may be more information released later today.
Edmonds School District spokeswoman DJ Jakala noted in a statement: “When we are notified of matters that occur outside of school and student safety is possibly in question, we involve law enforcement, as we did in this case.
“To the extent this issue came on campus via social media and impacted students at school, we have taken disciplinary actions,” the statement said. “Some are expecting the school to police or parent teen behaviors that happened outside of school, off school grounds and outside of the school day. In this instance, we are limited in our jurisdiction.”
The statement also noted that the district “has internet safety curriculum in place for each grade level, kindergarten through grade 12.”
Here’s the deal, though. Kids don’t view sharing 140-character messages and photos on Twitter as a safety issue. Social media has forever changed the lives of our children, for better and for worse. They rely on it to communicate — and unfortunately they communicate things that should never be in a public forum.
Make no mistake, Twitter is very public. As a journalist, I follow many organizations and individuals on Twitter, because it’s often the fastest way to get breaking news. I also follow many of our local teen athletes. That’s because My Edmonds News covers high school sports, and sometimes those athletes share thoughts about a game they’ve just played or they even talk about a college they’ve committed to play a sport at. In other words, it’s newsworthy.
But they also talk about things they shouldn’t (at least, not if they want to get a college scholarship or a summer job offer) — drug use, alcohol binging and of course, sex. It absolutely blows my mind what they share. And it makes me wonder if their parents are following them on Twitter, too.
Last fall, a well-known high school athlete I was following, started sending sexually explicit tweets that were also, frankly, extremely degrading to women. Knowing that this person was also hoping to get a college athletic scholarship, I called these tweets to the attention of the Edmonds School District. They, in turn, informed that athlete’s coach so that he could advise the student that maybe Twitter was not the appropriate forum for these statements. Soon after, I noticed that those explicit tweets stopped.
But now there’s this. Two young men who may be facing criminal charges. A young woman whose photo with these two young men has been retweeted far and wide.
For as long as there have been teenagers, they will make poor decisions. All parents of teens know this. It’s part of growing up. But social media has magnified and amplified those decisions. It used to be, a kid would get into trouble and his parents and his friends might hear about it, via a conversation or a phone call. But now, trouble spreads at the speed of a tweet, a Facebook post or a text message.
I’m not sure what it will take to get students to take notice but I did see one tweet last night, from an Edmonds-Woodway student, that may have summed it all up: “F twitter honestly.. Done nothin good for Edmonds woodway this past week”.