It should be no surprise that life is a lot different for girls in their tweens and teens than it was for us at their age. They may be too young to sign up for pole dancing, but many have been exposed to the exploits of idols such as Britney Spears since they were first climbing the jungle gym. Even if parents carefully regulate TV, DVDs, the Internet, and movies, young women have probably seen near-porno shots of the “girl next door,” easily available on their cell phones.
We don’t even have to be raising girls to be concerned. When I heard about eighteen-year-old Phillip Alpert who made it on the sex offenders list for sending a naked photo of his 16-year-old girlfriend (which she had taken of herself) to dozens of people, I realized how easily it could happen to my sons.
According to a survey of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 39% of teens who responded, send or post sexually suggestive messages, and 48% reported receiving such messages. As an IT professional and business leader for the past 19 years, I have to ask what are we not doing in our society to mentor to young women who will be hitting the job market in just a few years. When we hear it takes a village to raise a child, we better be sure we know who is in the village.
There is a prevailing attitude today accepting such practices as sexting—sending sexually-charged language in text messages—as a fairly normal activity for teens. If we are to accept this, we can expect more incidences such as teenager Jesse Logan who committed suicide after being harassed and ridiculed over her photos.
We have to remember that the Y Generation women in our offi ces were often the early adopters of a look-at-me-the-hottie culture. Today subtle, yet sexy suggestions shared on My Space pages can mean the difference between getting into the college of their choice or being selected for a job.
Sometimes it takes a personal experience to understand how dangerous technology can be. When my twelve-year-old niece came to live with me one summer, she had access to our computers during the daytime while I was working. Shortly after she returned home, my brother asked if I knew a D.C. phone number and if my niece had met anyone while she was in Virginia Beach. His daughter lied, saying she met a fifteen-year-old boy, but her friend across the street revealed that she talked to someone a lot online while playing poker.
After months of investigation, we discovered the “boy” was actually 40-something and employed with the Federal Aviation Committee. He had even bought an airline ticket for her. Nailing the impersonator was just half the challenge. Convincing my niece that her “boyfriend” was not fifteen took months and caused her a great deal of mistrust with her family.
So how do we battle a culture which demoralizes young ladies? Here are just a few tips I have used when teaching the course “What Children are Doing When No One is Watching…”
Know the threats to young girls today.
With city-wide activities, the Internet, and multiple entertainment venues, girls meet peers far beyond the neighborhood and their own schools. Today’s online gaming and gambling sites are used equally today by teen girls and boys. The psychological aspects of social networking (MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and media such as You-tube) as to how many friends you have and what your fans think about you is just as dangerous as the time they spend on the computer.
Participate in technology at their level.
Rather than demand their passwords or take quick glances at the screen periodically (Remember, they are faster than you will ever be to hide what they don’t want you to see), set up your own account on MySpace and ask to be a friend. This gives you access to their page anytime.
Don’t assume anything.
Did you know you can learn to hack into a site on MySpace within minutes? That means the good, bad, and the ugly can learn everything about a teen whether it is factual information or not. That’s why I promote key logger programs which can capture every keystroke.
Too much knowledge is good! So often we don’t want to hear the language or broad ideas of young people because it doesn’t fit into our beliefs or interests. The more we can get our girls to talk about their day-to-day experiences and how they feel about them, the more we can share our viewpoints or, at least, encourage them to ask our opinions. Teenage girls need desperately to have trusted women they can talk to who may have a valuable perspective which is different or presented differently than what they hear from their peers.
Develop mentoring opportunities within your organization.
Teen girls need exposure to women who are successful and well liked without using their sexuality to get what they want and need. Developing values in venues other than MySpace, the neighborhood skating rink with its wide range of young adult influences, or the reality programs watched alone is critical for a society desperately needing to prepare young people for their futures.
Degrading activities such as sexting are not some modern version of spin-the-bottle. Technology does change our society and although it provides endless, positive opportunities, the wrong use can result in very serious consequences for tweens and teens as they become young women. You can help utilize your knowledge and skills as a mentor and make an incredible difference in the lives of today’s young women.
Jeri Prophet is founder and CEO of IntellecTechs, a company specializing in training, networking, hosting, security, and web design. She can be reached at j.prophet@IntellecTechs.com or 757-962-2487.