As the proud big sister to a teenage brother, I was mortified to hear the results of recent research on teen "hookup culture."Researchers interviewed 1,000 students and found that boys my brother's age and younger were sending sexually graphic messages to girls as a means of "flirting or goofing around." Without getting too detailed, these messages sent via Facebook, Twitter, or text typically asked if the girls (some of which they had never spoken to) would be interested in doing sexual things with them. Gross.
I asked my brother if his friends would ever do something like this to get a girl's attention. He said, "I know one would, but everyone else thinks that it would be way too forward and would be a bad first impression." Phew.
Researchers for the book, The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age think that social media and texting are partially to blame for kids taking "flirty" messages too far. They claim that it's harder for kids, especially boys, to learn social cues and the polite ways to talk to the opposite sex since they can't see the other person's facial reaction).. While I do think that these platforms enable some kids to send creepy messages to unsuspecting girls, it's hard for me to believe that social media and texting are the only ways tweens and teenagers are speaking to each other. It's true that technology has evolved since I was in high school but the last time I checked, school dances, football games, and extracurricular activities are still going strong.
What this problem really comes down to is teaching boys to respect girls. Boys need to know that nice guys don't always finish last and that you're more likely to get a girl's attention by being gentleman than by asking her if she wants to "hookup" with you. I hope that I taught my brother these values while we were still under the same roof.
At the same time, we need to teach girls that it's okay to stand up to boys who make them feel uncomfortable. I assume that most girls who receive these graphic messages aren't sure how their reaction will affect how the guys at school perceive them. But they should know that when they make it known that these messages are out of line, it's not going to make them look un-cool -- it's going to make the sender realize he made a stupid move and, hopefully, stop him from using that pick-up method on girls again.
Image of a little girl via Shutterstock