Formal bans on sexting in school districts


My colleagues and I have been discussing the phenomenon of sexting in great detail recently, in light of the actions of two Texas school districts.  Before the beginning of this new school year, the Houston Independent school district (one of the largest in the nation) and the Dallas-Fort Worth school district banned sending sexually-explicit photos or messages over cell phones.  Some argue that this action is paternalistic, outdated, tyrannical, and even possibly unconstitutional.  Others applaud the decision, which reflects that administrators are finally treating this matter seriously.

Personally, I’m glad that the district is focusing in on the problem, but I’m not sure if this policy will actually be useful as students tend not to be deterred by heavy-handed rule-making.  I also don’t want its presence to take the place of purposed educational efforts to teach students about the responsible use of technology.  This sometimes happens when laws or policies are implemented as a way of quickly “dealing” with an issue without understanding its fundamental causes.

When giving presentations, I talk a lot about the need to change prevailing social norms regarding what is acceptable and unacceptable in the minds of youth.  I feel that our prevention and response efforts are going to be less than ideal and fruitful if we cannot effectively counter what society and the media are hammering into the minds of adolescents.  If the dominant message our kids are hearing is that sex and sexuality lead to popularity and celebrity status with very little (if any) public or personal fallout, youth will continue to push the proverbial envelope and the line between right and wrong in this area will be increasingly obscured.  Maybe that’s fine – maybe that’s part of our inevitable march forward into modernity.  But maybe it portends more problems than we’re going to be able to handle.


  1. Thanks for bringing these new policies to light. I personally would prefer to see an integrated education plan about new technologies and student interactions rather than an unenforceable policy. How will they know if these messages are being sent without conducting unreasonable search and seizures of phones? How will this be enforced differently from existing sexual harassment and school safety policies? I agree that these heavy-handed policies do little to change student behavior and improve school climates. I wrote about much of this in my book: Gender, bullying, and harassment: Strategies to end sexism and homophobia in schools, and continue to be amazed at school districts archaic responses to new youth cultures.

    Thanks for your blog.

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