by Leslie Morgan Steiner
On a leafy green street in suburban Bethesda, Maryland, there’s a friendly redbrick building. My son’s AAU basketball team held practice there two nights a week for a year, so I knew Thomas W. Pyle Middle School before I read about it in the Washington Post recently. Plus two girls from my son’s private school left to attend Pyle three years ago. It’s in their neighborhood and they wanted to be able to walk to school and be with their local friends. Pyle’s education is arguably just as nurturing and stimulating as our kids’ expensive private school, and it feeds into Walt Whitman High School, an Honorable Mention on US News and World Report’s “America’s Best High Schools ”.
So I was stunned to read in the Post  that kids at Pyle have been sending and receiving nude or nearly nude photos of female classmates via text message – or “sexting.” Other Pyle students allegedly PAID to view the photos. In some states, this counts as child pornography, even though, in this case at least, the girls apparently posed willingly.
How could such young kids – 6th, 7th, and 8th graders – be so technologically sophisticated and simultaneously stupid? How can middle school have changed so radically in 30 years that girls WANT boys to see them naked? As a middle school girl myself, my greatest terror was being dragged into the boys’ bathroom – fully clothed. I had nightmares about not wearing underwear to school. I would have thrown myself into a sewer before I willingly shared a nude photo of my private self with classmates.
This disconnect is just more evidence of the technology divide between our childhood and our children’s daily reality.
"I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for parents to monitor children's use of cell phones and the Internet," the Pyle principal wrote in the school newsletter. "Our students are at an age when they begin to test boundaries and make complex life decisions. There is a comfort for students when parents set limits and remain active in their lives."
I decided to try the principal’s advice. Could my 7th grade son – who Verizon claims sent 5,000 text messages during the month of January – be sexting with his classmates?
So I asked him. Turns out, he had heard about the Pyle case too, and had a few opinions himself.
“I guess I think it’s wrong to sell naked pictures of yourself or someone else,” he told me. “But the girls weren’t forced to do it. Maybe it’s stupidity that got them into it. And the boys were perverted and morally wrong to pay to look at them. But I don’t see how you can call it illegal. All the kids did it willingly. I hear older kids – mostly high school -- talking about nude pictures getting around all the time – via text, Facebook and the Internet.”
I told my son that curiosity about sex and other people’s bodies is totally normal. But that sexting is not a terribly good way to assuage one’s curiosity – given that it’s potentially illegal and immoral. Seemed we had a good, helpful discussion along the lines of the Pyle principal’s advice. In our own fashion, we chipped away at the technology chasm separating my childhood and my son’s.
“Yeah, Mom,” was his answer. “Now can you help me with my math homework?”
Suddenly, parabolas and quadratic equations seemed blessedly simple.