As a former college cheerleader (Go Norse!), I was obsessed with the Netflix docuseries Cheer. The show follows the best cheerleading squad in the nation, Navarro--a junior college in Navarro, Texas, as they prepare to take the mat and compete at Nationals in Daytona Beach, Florida. Throughout the show, you get an inside look at the work these students put into being competition ready, and you cheer and pray for your favorites to “make mat” (Let’s go, Jerry!). The viewer learns the personal history and battles some of the members had to overcome, and honestly, some of their stories left me heartbroken in tears.
There are layers and several take-away moments from the show, especially how valuable every person is to the team and this life--despite what trauma and hard life experiences they have endured. This is an important message I make a point to leave with every student I talk to. No matter what people have said or done to you, no matter how many followers you have on social media, or GPA, or income-level would ever change the IMMENSE value every person has to our community and world.
Another moment in the show that I connect to with students revolves around the consequences of sending nudes. While representing Navarro Cheer, coach Monica runs an intimidatingly tight ship. Our rookie Lexi, finds herself getting harassed by a girl who is threatening to share private, nude photos Lexi sent when she was 17. Afraid to ask for help and potentially get kicked off the team, you can see how distraught Lexi becomes. It affects her ability to cheer, thus, coach Monica intervenes and discovers what’s going on. While Monica and Lexi get the situation handled, I think of the students I interact with who may relate to Lexi. I explain to students that sending nudes has both social and legal consequences immediately and in the future; what you post or send NEVER goes away (when they are 45, their 17 year old body will still be online for everyone), and once it’s out there you don’t get to decide who sees it or how it is used--including becoming a tool of black mail that could lead someone to do something they would never want to do. I discuss in depth sexting with prevention in mind to empower students to maintain their control, and I stress getting help if they have already sent a nude photo to regain as much control over it as they can.
**Abusers often rely on a victim to be too ashamed or afraid to ask for help. While sending nudes as a minor has serious legal ramifications, it is also a crime to extort someone through holding sexually explicit content over them. So, talk to your students about the consequences of sending explicit content, and importantly, let them know you are there for them. If your child does come to you, try not to react angrily or patronize them for making a mistake, as we all have made mistakes. Because I guarantee, if they come to you for help, it took a lot of courage, and they already feel bad. Use TV shows like Cheer, movies, or news to start conversations about sexting and demonstrate how one choice can impact your life.**