At a recent Louisa County High School assembly, teens were asked “Out of the people you know, how many have sexted?” and most of them replied: “everyone.” As shocking as that may be, the reality is that teenagers are sexting—texting someone suggestive or sexual pictures/content. And yes, our special education kids are sexting too.
Many teachers and parents are still unsure what to make of this phenomenon. Some say that it is a huge problem that needs to be stopped before kids ruin their lives and futures with a potential nude photo scandal; while others say that it’s just how normal teenage sexual experimentation works in the 21st century.
Regardless, this growing phenomenon cannot be ignored and we should not assume it doesn’t affect our special needs students.
Special needs students are still teenagers, who like any other normal teenager, feel the need to explore their bodies and sexuality.
Unfortunately, their disabilities may also make them vulnerable to predators and exploitation. As educators and parents, it’s vital to teach personal safety, social boundaries, and positive dating skills.
So how do we handle sexting? Do we just assume that our beloved children and students are morally corrupt nude senders and receivers? Or is there another motive behind these sexts and nude photos?
Nude Photos as Currency
One interesting aspect of this whole sexting scandal is the way teenagers perceive the “sexts” they receive. For many, they aren’t Willy Wonka’s golden ticket to the chocolate factory. Instead, it’s a mere hobby, just like collecting sports cards. Another shocker, right? For many teens, it’s simply just “cool” to have a picture that nobody else has. It’s a social currency more than an immoral fantasy.
These nude photos are treated as currency, not as pieces of incriminating evidence or a sign that today’s young people are morally corrupt. Remember, today’s teens, including those in special education, live in a world where pornography is readily available through their handy little smartphones. In other words, a boy having a nude photo of a girl on his phone might not be that big of a deal to him or his friends.
Of course, as educators and parents, we know there is a dark side to sexting. Even when nude photos are sent out as a prank, they can lead to problems and serious consequences. Even if teenagers are only sending these pictures to each other, they are still nude photographs of minors, and that is always illegal. The same rules apply for our special needs children. Unfortunately, most teenagers are not aware of this fact.
Furthermore, they lack two important social skills related to intimacy and relationships:
1. Respecting social distance.
2. Relationship boundaries.
Therefore, it is our duty to teach them these things and encourage personal safety.
Social & Relationship Boundaries in the Smartphone World
Smartphones and social media have definitely changed the way teenagers interact and socialize. (In today’s world it is a million times easier to take a nude photo and immediately send it via text than it was 10 years ago). However, the underlying point is that the same social skills and social boundaries should still apply to this generation, including special needs students.
Often, the issue ends up being that a lot of general and special needs teens do not have knowledge over the core social boundaries and social skills that were once so prominent. They might be too busy building their SnapChat friends list to really care about social and relationship boundaries. However, that’s where educators and parents can make a difference. We should address emotional health and relationship boundaries for teenagers, especially those with special needs. In the end, though teenage sexual experimentation is normal, we must still teach them about sexual health, being responsible, and personal safety.
At Stanfield We Think You Should Know:
“Nude photo scandals” and “sexting” are both concepts that are a widespread phenomenon now a days. Though the thought of having our special needs children and students engage in sexual activities is terrifying and discomforting, at the James Stanfield Company, we think it is extremely important to talk to them about sexuality, social boundaries, and relationships. That’s why we offer the Circles Video Curriculum! Circles features several programs about sexual boundaries, social distance, relationships, and personal safety. To learn more about Circles, click here!
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.
Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.