Monday, December 7, 2009

Art Imitates Life

If you've been tuning into our blog, you know that we've been working as an ensemble for several months to create a play about issues that affect teens.  When it comes to interpersonal relationships, we've discovered that teens go to each other for guidance more often than they do adults.

This is one reason we take our mission of peer education so seriously.  Our ensemble members are not just performers.  Through the course of their artistic work, they do research about issues like bullying, sexual harassment and gender expectations.  Their lived experience becomes a rich context for their artistic work.  Who knows best about the realities of what it's like to be a teen?  Teens in the ensemble are our network of experts on this topic.

Last week we undertook revisions on our play in progress.  One storyline in our piece centers around the common practice of "sexting" among teens.  Sexting is defined as "the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photos electronically, primarily between cell phones."   

During the course of our research into sexting, we were trying to discover ways our character, Alyssa might respond after photos she sent to a boyfriend got posted online.  This led us to discover the sad but true story of Hope Witsell, a 15 year old Florida teen who committed suicide after semi-nude photos she sent to a boy she liked were circulated.

The number of parallels we saw between Hope's real story and the character of Alyssa in our play were jarring.  The pressure she faces to succeed, the pressures to be in a relationship, the brutal bullying that occurred after her photos went public and the hesitation to discuss the situation with parents are all themes these two stories have in common.  

As an ensemble, we were deeply saddened to hear of Hope's passing.  We send condolences to her family and friends.  We hope our work will inform young people about the consequences of these kinds of behaviors before it is too late.  

If you are a teen, here are some tips to consider before you hit SEND:
  • Don't assume anything you post or send is going to remain private
  • There is no changing your mind in cyberspace - anything you send or post will never truly go away
  • Don't give in to the pressure to do something that makes you uncomfortable, even in cyberspace
  • Consider the recipient's reaction: just because a message is meant to be fun doesn't mean the person who sent it will see it that way
  • Nothing is truly anonymous
If you are the parent of a teen, communicate with them about their use of technology:
  • Talk to your kids about what they are doing in cyberspace
  • Know who your kids are communicating with
  • Consider limitations on electronic communication
  • Be aware of what your teens are posting publicly
  • Set expectations
(The above info is from a sex tech survey created by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and

If you would like to read more about Hope Witsell or respond with a message for her friends and family, please see this article: