The New York Times last week told the story of eighth grader Margarite, who "sexted" (sent a naked photo of herself via cell phone) her boyfriend. When he and Margarite broke up, the boyfriend forwarded the message to another girl—a former friend of Margarite's with whom she was having some trouble—with the caption, "Ho Alert!" The girl forwarded it, and soon the whole school had access to the photo that the 14-year-old meant for her boyfriend's eyes. Several students were eventually charged with child pornography for their role in forwarding the message, although charges were eventually downgraded to harassment, punishable by community service.

As my oldest daughter prepares for middle school next year, I'm pondering the best ways to equip her to handle the changes and challenges of adolescence with wisdom and grace. One of my central concerns is how to help her (and our other two children) navigate the digital world of cell phones and laptops. Sexting, distracted driving, cyberbullying—these modern scourges can leave kids damaged, lonely, in legal trouble, or even dead.

Recognizing that online activity (sexting and cyberbullying, as well as less overtly threatening Facebooking and texting) has potentially negative effects on kids' physical and mental health, the American Academy of Pediatrics is urging pediatricians to inquire about media use during check-ups. Experts have coined the phrase "Facebook depression" to describe the plummeting self-esteem that can result from constant exposure to friends' happy status updates and photos indicating a packed social calendar. Although it has yet to show a causal link, one study found that teens who text a lot (120 text messages or more per day) are more likely ...

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