let’s talk about sex(t) baby

sexting: [seks-ting] noun. the sending of sexually explicit photos, images, text messages, or e-mails by using  a cell phone or other mobile device.


I am “lightweight” anti-texting because of how de-personalized the entire process feels. It is nearly impossible to read tone unless your message includes at least three emojis. I am not able to hear the person’s voice and wonder if I am making them happy or sad. It is super frustrating because it is virtually ok to have someone interrupt my train of thought…do you not see Erika is typing on Whatsapp? Do you not see the three thinking dots on imessage?! And truthfully, I am just really lazy and it takes way too much energy to have an entire conversation pressing buttons.

But I need to get with the times because “we can be so much more verbal through texting” (J. Blatt, personal communication, November 3, 2015). Teens have invented a new language for the texting age. Let’s see how many “words” you can correctly guess with the quiz below, inspired by my professor, Joe Blatt.

What do the following text abbreviations stand for? Click here for the answers.   

  1. LOL
  2. OMG
  3. POS
  4. LMIRL
  5. SWAK
  6. GMTA
  7. SLAP
  8. WE
  9. TYVM
  10. BCNU

Texting is the most fun thing for teenagers to do on a weekend. They get to keep in contact with as many friends as they want while enjoying their Netflix binge in the comfort of their home. But what if you have been crushing on someone in your geometry class? And you got their number a while ago and have been playin’ it coo and sending cat memes and buzzfeed quizzes. And you heard from someone else that their friend said that they like like you. Let’s meet Nico and Mila, both 16 who enjoy playing soccer and like going to the movies and eating pizza…

The Hypothetical ScenarioNico is crushing on Mila, but they are both grounded. #bummer. But they are both able to use their smartphones for one hour a night. #possibilities. It is Friday night. Nico and Mila’s messages have become more flirty over the past couple of weeks. But Mila and Nico are tired of LOL-ing and winky-facing each other night after night. So, Nico sexts Mila what he wishes they were doing. And then Mila sexts what she would do to him next. Words are not enough and after promising not to share these with anyone else, Mila sexts tasteful sideboob and Nico responds by sexting his washboard abs. And on Saturday…various half-naked poses on their beds. And on Sunday…naked selfies. #cyberscore. 

This is a parent’s dream, yes? There is no way that Nico or Mila will contract an STI or become pregnant. They are still virgins and there is no harm in this creative sexpression. Or is there?

According to the study conducted by Dr. Temple et al. about teen sexting and its association with sexual behaviors, “Adolescents who engaged in sexting behaviors were more likely to have begun dating and to have had sex than those who did not sext….For girls, sexting was also associated with risky sexual behaviors” (2012, p.828). His research team concluded that sexting is very prevalent among sexually active teens and that sexting may be an indicator of when a teen becomes sexually active (2012).

Not to sound too cliched, but this sounds like a “chicken or the egg” situation. Are teens more likely to engage in sexting when they are already sexually active? Or does sexting lead to sexual activity?

How can teachers best support their students and educate them about sexting? Should teachers educate their students about the potential negative consequences?  I personally take the liberal “sex-ed” approach which is to not preach “abstinence” from sexting. I would absolutely talk to students about how their sexually explicit online messages are not necessarily private. The person receiving the messages can take a screen shot or forward anything you post. I would continuously remind students to be mindful of what they  send and who they send it to. I would also speak with the school administration to make sure that students are receiving a comprehensive sex education curriculum every school year (not just once in sixth grade) taught by a health professional.

How would you address this topic, or would you address this topic with your high school students? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. I look forward to learning from you.

Talk soon, Erika


NetLingo. (2015). Top 50 Popular Text Terms. Retrieved December 18, 2015, from http://www.netlingo.com/top50/popular-text-terms.php
NetLingo. (2015). The Dictionary. Retrieved December 18, 2015, from http://www.netlingo.com/dictionary/g.php
Dictionary.com. (2015) Sexting. Retrieved December 18, 2015, from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sexting?s=t
Temple, J.R., Paul, J. A., v.d. Berg, P., Le, V.D., McElhany, A., & Temple, B.W. (2012). Teen sexting and its association with sexual behaviors. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine166, 9, 828-833.





The following post was inspired by the Crossroads for Kids* panelists. I learned from the experts (high school students themselves) that teachers need to be informed for their students so that they feel like their teachers can understand them & better relate to their media worlds. 

Although parents and staff members often mistake me for a student and ask me for my hall pass, I feel old when I hear my students referencing their lastest tweets, yaks & snaps. I find myself reminiscing about my first leopard-print NOKIA given to me when I went away to college, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM name booboobruinette) and myspace.com. (sidebar: I recently visited my MySpace page and was surprised to find that my Top 8 was still intact. A lesson for the youths-anything you put on the internet really does not go away, even after a decade of inactivity).

Social media is essential for teens to communicate with each other. According to the PEW Research Center’s (2015) recent findings, over 92% of teens are online daily and smartphones are a primary reason for this communication shift. This new wave of connectedness (which has seemingly replaced talking on the phone) allows young people to make plans, minimize FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), create a sense of belonging to a community and provides a space to create their identities (J. Blatt, personal communication, November 3, 2015).

Since I have been out of the classroom for six months, I was curious about the hottest apps youths are currently accessing on their smartphones. The most recent Common Sense Media findings highlight the top 15 social media apps (not including Facebook) that teens often use. Please feel free to click on the link to view them all. I want to dive a bit deeper in to three of the most popular apps, based on my personal experiences working with students, the Crossroads for Kids panelists’ insights and the Growing up in a Media World student presentations.

For each social media app, I have provided two definitions. One is from commonsensemedia.org to give a more academic insight and the other is from  urbandictionary.com to give a more popular culture insight. I was inspired to use urban dictionary because Joe Blatt reminded our class to view media from the perspective of who would most likely use it. And according to urbandictionary.com, urban dictionary is “a place formerly used to find out about slang and now a place that teens with no life use as a burn book to whine about celebrities, their friends, etc., let out their sexual frustrations, show off their racist/sexist/homophobic/anti-(insert religion here) opinions, troll, and babble about things they know nothing about” (Urban Dictionary, 2005, para.1). Therefore, high school students would most likely use this “by the people, for the people”, laugh-out-loud, politically incorrect resource.

#1 What is Snapchat?

Snapchat defined by Common Sense Media: “A messaging app that lets users put a time limit on the pictures and videos they send before they disappear. Most teens use the app to share goofy or embarrassing photos without the risk of them going public. However, there are lots of opportunities to use it in other ways” (Common Sense Media, 2015, para.20).

Snapchat defined by Urban Dictionary: “A way to get naked selfies” (Urban Dictionary, 2013, para.1).

What do teachers need to know about Snapchat?: “It’s a myth that Snapchats go away forever. Data is data: Whenever an image is sent, it never truly goes away. It can make sexting seem OK. The seemingly risk-free messaging might encourage users to share pictures containing sexy images” (Common Sense Media, 2015, para.21).

Below is a media presentation that my fellow classmate Christian van Loenen and I created  which highlights the positive and negative aspects of Snapchat to keep teachers informed for their students.

#2 What is Yik Yak? 

Yik Yak defined by Common Sense Media: A free social-networking app that lets users post brief, Twitter-like comments to the 500 geographically nearest Yik Yak users. Kids can find out opinions, secrets, rumors, and more. Plus, they’ll get the bonus thrill of knowing all these have come from a 1.5-mile radius…” (Common Sense Media, 2015, para.24).

Yik Yak defined by Urban Dictionary: “A mobile app college kids use to anonymously talk shit and post witty things to people nearby”(Urban Dictionary, 2014, para.1).

What do teachers need to know about Yik Yak?: “It reveals your location….This app has it all: cyberbullying, explicit sexual content, unintended location-sharing, and exposure to explicit information about drugs and alcohol. Some schools have banned access. Some teens have used the app to threaten others, causing school lockdowns and more. Its gossipy and sometimes cruel nature can be toxic to a high school environment, so administrators are cracking down” (Common Sense Media, 2015, para.25).

Here is a news article that we read for Joe Blatt’s class on how Yik Yak can impact a high school climate: http://nymag.com/thecut/2014/04/gossip-app-brought-my-high-school-to-a-halt.html#

Please enjoy a very cool presentation created by my fellow classmates Alex Sucheck & Jonas Sherr which highlights the potential positive and negative impacts of Yik Yak: Anonymous Gossip**

#3 What is Instagram? 

Instagram defined by Common Sense Media: “[Instagram] lets users snap, edit, and share photos and 15-second videos, either publicly or with a private network of followers. It unites the most popular features of social media sites: sharing, seeing, and commenting on photos. It also lets you apply fun filters and effects to your photos, making them look high quality and artistic” (Common Sense Media, 2015, para.10).

Instagram defined by Urban Dictionary: “Every hipster’s favorite way to make it look like they take really classy pictures when really they are still using their phones” (Urban Dictionary, 2011, para.1).

What do teachers need to know about Instagram?: “Similar to the way they use Facebook, teens may measure the “success” of their photos-even their self-worth-by the number of likes or comments they receive….Photos and videos shared on Instagram are public unless privacy settings are adjusted. Hashtags and location information can make photos even more visible to communities beyond a teen’s followers if his or her account is public” (Common Sense Media, 2015, para.11).

Shameless plug: follow me on instagram @hillstead.

Please feel free to share what apps your students use and write them in the comments section of this post. I look forward to learning from you.

Talk soon, Erika

P.S. Here is another related works blog I came across on the Common Sense Media site, https://www.graphite.org/blog, a resource for parents and teachers which discusses media’s impact on young people.


*(Crossroads for Kids, personal communication, October 19, 2015).
**(A. Sucheck, personal communication, December 15, 2015).
Common Sense Media. (2015). 15 Apps and Websites Kids Are Heading to After Facebook. Retrieved December 17, 2015 from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/15-apps-and-websites-kids-are-heading-to-after-facebook#
Christian van Loenen. (2015, November 8). Snapchat-Erika and Christian [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bPbY_hLL88
Haskell, W. (2014, April 28). A Gossip App Brought My High School to a Halt http://nymag.com/thecut/2014/04/gossip-app-brought-my-high-school-to-a-halt.html#
PEW Research Center. Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview 2015. Retrieved December 18, 2015, from http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/04/09/teens-social-media-technology-2015/
Urban Dictionary. (2005). Urban dictionary.  Retrieved December 16, 2015, from http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=urban+dictionary
Urban Dictionary. (2013). Snapchat. Retrieved December 16, 2015, from http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Snapchat
Urban Dictionary. (2014). Yik Yak. Retrieved December 16, 2015, from http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=yikyak
Urban Dictionary. (2011). Instagram. Retrieved December 16, 2015, from http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Instagram


relationship building (blocks)


“When we ask young people…how do you know a teacher or an adult in your school cares about you? The most frequent response was that the adult simply says hello and knows my name and greets me using my name.” –Bonnie Benard: www.cde.ca.gov/ls/yd/tr/schoolconnectach.asp

As fellow classroom educators can appreciate, I spend much of my personal, limited funds on anything school related to make me a “better” teacher. Here is a brief inventory of what I have spent my money on over the past couple of years…

  • H&M clearance items that can double for a teaching outfit and a night on the town
  • Friday happy hour appetizers and adult libations at Buffalo Wild Wings or Applebee’s
  • pencils to replace the pencils that my students have used or eaten
  • vaseline and eyeglasses to simulate sight impairment
  • cotton balls to simulate hearing impairment
  • scotch tape to simulate arthritis
  • squirt bottles to simulate classical conditioning
  • M&Ms to simulate operant conditioning
  • marbles and foil to represent a chocolate factory assembly line
  • historical fiction films that the school district refuses to purchase because they are not G-rated (#historyisnotg-rated)

 But I am continuously learning that the best way to be a “better” teacher and make a positive difference in students’ lives does not cost anything at all.

Stan Davis, creator of www.stopbullyingnow.com devoted his website to supporting young people who have been the victims of bullying behavior. Below is a word cloud Stan generated from his research that creatively highlights the most important teacher qualities from students’ perspectives…

“When we examine this word cloud and the actual student responses, we see that students…choose to build connections with teachers who they see as consistently accepting, welcoming, and emotionally positive toward them and their peers.”     -Stan Davis                                                                         

Below are everyday friendly reminders to support teachers who want to build healthy & positive relationships with their students

at the beginning of class…

  •  say hello to every student as they walk into your classroom and offer a genuine smile
  • before the bell rings, try to talk to a different student everyday about something other than school
  • start your class with an opening circle* to create a sense of community and provide a quick and easy way to learn something about your students
    • everyone stands in a circle and shares out a response to a topic that you choose. Possible topics include
      • how they are feeling on a scale of 1-10
      • a peak (high point) or a pit (low point) from today
      • a pet peeve
      • a food they are craving
      • most recent song they listened to
      • what they last posted on social media

during class…

  • Structures and Routines
    • mix up the seating arrangements once every few weeks to ensure that students are not only interacting with all of their peers, but also are seated in a place where they can engage with you
    • create opportunities for social support
      • establish a classroom meeting protocol to discuss sensitive topics that students are affected by
      • Piece Circle Prompts*
    • Implement formative and restorative policies as part of your behavior management plan
      • distinguish the negative or unwanted action from the student*
      • stay away from zero-tolerance policies which are punitive rather than restorative*
      • students need to be educated and learn why their behavior is unacceptable*
  • Activities

at the end of class…

  • create a closing circle* with all students. Possible closing topics for students to share-out include
    • “I used to think…now I think…” 
    • a wondering or a question
    • six-word take-away
      • students create a six-word poem/sentence about something they learned today

after class…

  • open door policy
    • create a symbol that you can post on your door so students know that you are available to support them
      • inspired by the “blue helping hands” from the documentary film, Cry for Help**

Please feel free to include specific and cost-free community building strategies that are effective in your classroom. I look forward to learning from you. Stay tuned for post #4 which highlights information about online media your students use daily.

Talk soon, Erika

Stan Davis (2015). Stop Bullying Now: Building Relationships. Retrieved December 17, 2015, from http://stopbullyingnow.com/building-relationships/
*(G. Brion-Meisels, personal communication, September 2, 2015-October 5, 2015).
**(H. Lem, personal communication, December 4, 2015).

back to school night


Every year, I don my hot pink heels and present a “Back to School Night” PowerPoint to a pleasant-enough and semi- polite* group of parents. On slide nine of Welcome Back to School I share that one of my primary expectations is for their teenage sons and daughters to feel emotionally safe when they come in to my classroom. And every year I tell myself that this foundational element of learning warrants more than a one-liner projected on a screen.

*about half are glued to their smartphones.

Safe spaces and more recently used, brave spaces are hot-topic catch phrases in professional development educational settings. What a safe space looks like can be unique to every teacher. To “operationalize” what it means to me, I wrote the following blurb inspired by Establishing Safe Spaces for Learning: Preventing Bullying and Discrimination in U.S. Schools; a course taught by the fabulous HGSE professor, Gretchen Brion-Meisels…

a safe space is a physical environment where students do not feel scared or uncomfortable to attend on a daily basis. It is a place where students want to positively participate in the educational community and share their viewpoints without being judged, even if their perspectives are different than someone else’s, including their teacher’s. It is a place where students feel emotionally and physically safe in their classrooms. Peers and teachers do not negatively interfere with an individual’s learning, identity development or personal well-being. 

In order for students to open up and engage with their teachers about cyberbullying, sexting and the dark side of social media, they need to consistently feel a sense of trust in a non-judgmental learning environment. Furthermore, teachers need to know what students are talking about. This simply stated, powerful piece of advice was given by a senior from the Crossroads for Kids  panel. A group of five super self-aware teenagers shared their personal stories about living in their media-saturated worlds to our class of current and future educators. Their insights inspired my safe space snapshot below, highlighting three simple ways to create safe spaces for teenagers to talk about heavy, deep & reals…

Tip #1: build relationships with your students  

Tip #2: be informed for your students

Tip #3: learn from your students

I am excited to explore Tip #1 in my next post. Please feel free to share your safe space snapshot in the comments section below…I look forward to learning from you.

Talk soon, Erika





good morning


It is great to have you here and thanks so much for reading! I’m Erika Hillstead, a passionate and quirky high school social studies teacher currently pursuing my Master’s degree in Education. I had the privilege to take Joe Blatt’s course, Growing up in a Media World this past fall semester at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Our class explored how young people are influenced by the unprecedented media stimulation across contexts and personal developmental periods, ranging from Curious George on PBS Kids to 16 and Pregnant on MTV. (sidebar from a former Total Request Live fan: what happened to the music on MTV)?

Joe Blatt inspires me to become a more effective and engaging educator. His carefully crafted witty lectures captivate and enlighten his students. I appreciate that his course directly relates to my continued work as a teacher and my new work as a teacher educator. Our final project asked us to connect what we learned to another part of our academic or professional goals. Combining the rich ideas of this course and the essential safe spaces work of my professor Gretchen Brion-Meisels, I created this blog to support teachers in a non-after-school-staff-development-meeting-that-should-have-been-an-email sort of way.

My educational-esque blog, teacher’s lounge focuses on how to create safe spaces for adolescent students to have meaningful conversations about the potential negative effects of online social media. My goal is to provide relevant, user-friendly and easily accessible researched resources to fellow and future teachers so that they are armed and fabulous with the latest concerns surrounding the potential dangers on teenagers’ online use. Each blog post’s emphasis will focus on building relationships with your students and preparing for discussions about cyberbullying, sexting and social media applications. Please feel free to share your insights and wonderings in the comments section of any blog post so that we can promote the tagline of this blog-teachers helping teachers. And please feel free to read this while drinking coffee or wine.

A shout out to my teaching fellow, David who encouraged me to not only write a blog for my final project, but to also take a look around the internet to see if anything has been written about this topic before…

#related works: after Google searching topics like teacher blog addressing negative social media and teacher blogs for safe spaces and blog about addressing the negative impacts of social media in classrooms, I did not find a specific blog that focuses on how teachers can discuss the negative social media impacts that students face. However, in my Google-ing, I came across Vicki Davis’ intriguing blog, Cool Cat Teacher which combines technology in classrooms and professional development and Education Week’s comprehensive assortment of multi-disciplinary blog posts. Non-blog related works include Edutopia-a resource-rich site for teacher structures and strategies (grades K-12) and the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education-a site that provides engaging safe space lesson plans you can implement in your classroom tomorrow.

A final note for now: if you are like me and are already “tripadvisor-ing” where to go for summer break, feel free to peruse my blog, hillstead on location which combines international travel anecdotes and off-beat humor about the good, the bad and the great of stepping out of the American comfort zone.

Talk soon, Erika