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A Thin Line Helps Teens Navigate Digital Abuse

By Sarah Klein

Last week I saw this 30-second spot on MTV. I was struck by not only the message (how often do you see commercials addressing sexting?) but also by the way the spot spoke directly to kids themselves. Parents have long expressed concerns over sexting and other digital dangers but, as many of us know only too well, tell a kid not to do something and she just wants to do it more.

The video is part of a larger campaign called A Thin Line, which was created by MTV to help kids stop the spread of digital abuse. The campaign was built on the understanding that there’s a “thin line” between something that might begin as a harmless joke but could end up having life-changing consequences.

The network launched the campaign and web site last December after partnering with the Associated Press on an in-depth study that looked at teens’ digital behavior. The study found that half of all 14-to-24-year-olds have been the target of some form of digital abuse, and up to 30% have sent or received nude or otherwise inappropriate pictures via cell phone or e-mail.

A Thin Line aims to help teens navigate the digital world by identifying and responding to this kind of behavior. It’s an issue unique to a generation growing up with social networking, 24/7 Internet access, and the constant presence of camera-equipped cell phones.

Digital abuse can take many forms, including spying on someone’s text messages or call history, constantly texting or IM-ing a partner to keep tabs on them, or pressuring someone to take and text racy photos.

For each of these areas and more, A Thin Line presents questions teens should ask themselves about the appropriateness of the behavior. It lists the possible consequences of poor choices, as well as steps teens can take to draw their own digital line: how to block texts and e-mails, how to increase privacy on sites like Facebook and MySpace, or how to resist peer pressure to sext.

Visitors to A Thin Line can also take a quiz about their attitudes toward certain actions. The results offer more suggestions for safer digital behavior. There are lots of videos to browse through like “Rachel’s Sext” and “ Tattoo”, as well as candid conversations with teens who share their own digital experiences.

The Take Control section offers additional advice on how to reclaim your digital domain, practice safe behavior, and how to handle friends who don’t respect appropriate boundaries.

At the very least, the site can be a starting point for teens to learn how to think and talk about these issues in a language that feels like their own. Parents can worry all they want but we won’t see much change in digital behavior until teens themselves realize the gravity of their virtual actions.

Comment by Ellen Lebowitz, posted 7/26/2010, 4:39 PM:

Sarah, Thanks for this article. When I was a kid, like many others I was bullied in school because I was tall and thin. The bullying happened on the playground and in the hallways. I haven't been a kid for a very long time but atleast way back then, kids couldn't reach my by cell phone or other digital devices. I'm happy to learn that there is now A Thin Line. Thanks again, Ellen Lebowitz
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