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Lesson Plan Booster: Think Before You Hit “Send”

This brief guide is designed to stimulate student discussion following media coverage of a high-profile case of a youth or adult posting or transmitting inappropriate information or photos via cell/text, email or social networking that resulted in humiliation, termination of employment and/or criminal charges. The guide can be used during a student advisory period or group mentoring session; or as part of a technology, social studies, media/journalism, health, psychology or current events class.

Grade Level


Student learning objective

Thinking about personal information/photos and why some things are never appropriate to post or send.


  1. Following media coverage of a high-profile case of a young people (or adults) who posted or transmitted inappropriate digital information, teachers should read up on the details of the case. Gossip Web sites such as and are a good resource. Major news outlets like also frequently pick up stories like these. Celebrity cases have included Chris Brown, Vanessa Hudgens, Rihanna, Pete Wentz, Britney Spears and "Teen Mom" Amber Portwood. U.S. Congressman Christopher Lee was forced to resign his office after topless photographs of him surfaced on a dating Web site (Lee was married at the time). New York Congressman Anthony Weiner also found himself in hot water after he used Twitter to send inappropriate photos of himself to women.
  2. Consider the long-term dangers of sharing of inappropriate digital information, beyond the immediate embarrassment. “Teen Mom” cast member Amber Portwood has said that she is embarrassed by the leaked photographs of her, as was Vanessa Hudgens. While these young women may have better career options due to their celebrity status, teens who “sext” or engage in inappropriate online behavior may be creating a digital roadmap that will follow them during job searches and other life-impacting scenarios for their entire lives.
  3. Consider the following statistics:
  • Twenty percent of teens have sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves.
  • Thirty-nine percent of teens are sending or posting sexually suggestive messages via text, email or IM.
  • Fifteen percent of teens who had sent or posted nude or semi-nude images of themselves have sent them to someone they only knew online.

Source: Adapted from the Oct. 2008 survey conducted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Available at

Introducing discussion to students

We should all think about the finality of hitting the “send” button. All too often people send a text or tweet, or make a post on Facebook, that they later regret. The cases of famous people doing this, like former Congressman Christopher Lee and “Teen Mom” cast member Amber Portwood, are good reminders that what you think will remain private (between you and the intended recipient) may very well become public.

Options for student discussion questions

  1. Are teens more comfortable with digital communication than face-to-face communication? Do teens have online personalities that are different from their “in real life” personalities? Does an online environment reduce inhibitions (make someone more likely to do/say things they wouldn’t in real life)?
  2. Research indicates that because their brains are not finished developing, teens are more likely than adults to “act without thinking,” especially when it comes to risky behaviors. Do you find this to be true among your peers? How does this impact online/digital behavior?
  3. Are teens more likely to inappropriately send/post if they are in a romantic relationship? Why or why not?
  4. In what ways can online material “come back to haunt you” later in life? Consider future employment and personal reputation in particular.
  5. Do you think cases like actress Vanessa Hudgens and former Congressman Christopher Lee help teens think before sending/posting, or do these consequences not seem “real”?
  6. What kind of personal rules would help teens think before sending/posting? (Have students generate.) Examples might include:
  • Never send/post nude or suggestive pictures, no matter how close you feel to the intended recipient. You should know that senders of explicit photos have in some cases been charged with pornography crimes.
  • Never send/post anything you wouldn’t want a parent/guardian or employer to see, even if you feel you can trust the recipient. Don’t rule out information being stolen from, or accidentally shared by, the trusted person.
  • Consider all digital information PUBLIC, no matter how many people you wanted to see it. Never say anything to someone digitally that you wouldn’t say to his/her face.
  • If you’re unsure of whether to send/post something, wait 24 hours to allow yourself time to really think it through. The laugh (or other desired reaction) you get from your peers in the short term can turn to serious regret in the long term.
  1. Besides simply “not thinking before sending,” what are some of the additional reasons teens may send and post inappropriate material online? They may want to…
  • Boost low self-esteem
  • Ease social anxiety
  • Seem popular and “cool”
  • Impress a romantic partner or “crush,” or feel close to him/her
  • Compete for the craziest or funniest behavior among peers
  • Communicate trust in a friend or romantic partner (famous last words: “S/he would never share this!”)

What are some healthier and more appropraiate ways to meet these social needs and goals?


Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
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