When Benni Cinkle was 13, she appeared in a YouTube music video that went viral, receiving over 200 million views. At first, Benni was ridiculed by millions around the world for her awkward dancing, often referred to as “That girl in pink that can’t dance.” They called her names and told her she should kill herself.
A few of the printable names she was called were “lame, terrible, awkward, horrible, stupid, freak, loser, awful, worthless, annoying, fat and ugly, dumb.” Other comments included, “She should probably look into suicide,” “Please just die” and “I’ll bet she wants to kill herself now.”
Did she let the jerks drag her down? Did she lose her self-esteem and get depressed? Did she commit suicide?
Instead of reacting defensively, Benni didn’t take it personally. She kept her spirits up. She met their criticism with humor, honesty and understanding. She was open and didn’t hide. Soon, anonymous cyber bullies became fans and Benni's online reputation as an approachable, down-to-earth teen began to grow. In the months following her unexpected popularity, Benni received tens of thousands of requests for advice from teens around the world.
Realizing she had been gifted with a platform that offered international reach, Benni decided to use her 15 minutes of fame for something positive. So she:
Started “That Girl in Pink Foundation” as a non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of teen suicide. TGIP focuses on any issue that may directly or indirectly lead to teen suicide, including: Teen Depression, Bullying, Cyber-Bullying, Teen Self-Mutilation, Teen Gay/Lesbian Support, Child Violence, Sexual Abuse, Teen Dating Violence, Eating Disorders and Teen Pregnancy.
Authored “That Girl in Pink’s Internet Survival Guide,” offering teens strategies for handling life online.
Organized a flashmob dance to raise donations for American Red Cross Japan Earthquake Relief.
Organized a walk for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation that included hundreds of kids from 14 countries walking with her, virtually.
Recorded her single, “Can You See Me Now,” and donated profits to TWLOHA and GLSEN.
Visited schools across the U.S. delivering her “Don’t Just Stand There” anti-bullying presentation.
In a series of articles in the New York Times, “Poisoned Web,” Jan Hoffman details a sexting case gone viral in Lacey, Washington. What can you do for your son or daughter so they don’t get sucked into the black hole of a sexting catastrophe that could ruin their whole lives?
In this particular case, a middle-school girl sent a full-frontal nude photo of herself, including her face, to her new middle-school boyfriend. He forwarded the picture to a second middle-school girl he thought was a friend of the first one. The second girl, an ex-friend with a grudge, forwarded the picture to the long list of contacts on her phone with the caption, “Ho Alert! If you think this girl is a whore, then text this to all your friends.” The photo rapidly went viral. A lot of the analysis about the situation is nothing new:
Why do girls send nude photos of themselves to boyfriends they have or hope to have? The same reasons girls always have.
Why do guys prize and show these pictures as evidence of what studs they are? The same reasons guys always have.
Who or what is to blame? The same culprits get vilified: thoughtless, foolish boys and girls, teenagers, school officials, society, double-standards and technology.
Does technology make sexting worse? Yes, of course. Technology makes it seductively easy to forward pictures and comments. Also, technology makes the information global and permanent. Kids can’t move to another school or even another city in order to get away from the consequences of what they and others did.
In the past, many reputations and lives were ruined by foolish moments. Kids and adults have always been able to exercise righteous or mean or vicious inclinations, but it’s so much easier now.
The boy, the second girl and everyone else who forwards the picture have to face their own stupidity or meanness. And they may have to face their role in a suicide. An act of a moment can destroy a life. Also, they may have to face prison. We hope this will help them do better the rest of their lives. Humans have always learned some lessons the hard way.
Do today’s kids face overwhelming pressure? Many people make excuses for the foolish or nasty kids; as if the external pressures are overwhelming. For example, the article quotes, “'You can’t expect teenagers not to do something they see happening all around them,’ said Susannah Stern, an associate professor at the University of San Diego who writes about adolescence and technology.” This line of thought focuses on reducing all pressure and temptation.
But pressure was just as great throughout history as it is now – depending on the particular time in each society.
I would require all schools have assemblies and programs in which students and parents are required to participate. Law enforcement must be involved to present examples of what can happen to the kids who send pictures of themselves and to the ones who forward those pictures. This will increase awareness of the dangers of kids succumbing to pressure to do something foolish like sending pictures of themselves and of the penalties for kids who forward pornography.
Parents have the major responsibility to preach, teach and police their children’s use of internet and wireless devices. This is our ounce of prevention. As the father of the girl who sent her nude picture said, “I could say it was everyone else’s fault, but I had a piece of it, too. I learned a big lesson about my lack of involvement in her use of the phone and texting. I trusted her too much.”
These steps will decrease the number of kids involved in sexting. But we’ll never stop 100 percent of kids’ foolish or mean or vicious actions. But that can’t be our intention. Our goal is to educate kids whose awareness of the potential consequences of their actions will awaken in them the ability to do better.
Our goal can’t be to educate or convert psychopaths or people who want to make a living off child pornography. Educational approaches aren’t effective with these people.
Remember, all tactics depend on the situation – the people and the circumstances. So we must design plans that are appropriate to preventing our individual children from sending pictures or forwarding them, and to minimizing the disaster if they act foolishly.