Life offline is an unfamiliar concept to many kids today. Many middle schoolers don't know what it's like to interact in a world without the Internet, text messaging and social media.
So what impact does digital communication have on their relationships and dating?
That's a question middle school students are exploring through art. Building on the momentum of last year's successful Final Friday exhibit that highlighted healthy relationships, "What's Luv Got to Do Wit' It 2?" aims to move the conversation to examine what is happening online.
The event was organized by students involved with Start Strong Wichita, a project of Catholic Charities that tries to promote healthy relationships among 11- to 14-year-olds. Tonight's show at the Shopkeeper's Gallery will feature art from middle school students across the Wichita school district.
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"Technology has changed how kids relate to each other," said Rob Simon, violence prevention specialist for Start Strong Wichita. "Artistically, we wanted a visual representation of how that looks."
Leading up to the show, students at every middle school in Wichita displayed art depicting the topic. Three to 10 pieces were chosen from each school to be part of tonight's Final Friday exhibit. Skits dramatizing cyber bullying and abuse in relationships will also be part of the show.
Simon cited statistics that illustrate why a show like this is relevant. "Sexting," the act of sending sexually suggestive text messages or images via phones or online communication, is at an all-time high, with 37 percent of teens admitting to such transmissions, he said. One in four teens in relationships report being harassed, called names, or put down by their partner via text message or through social media posts. Control is also an issue. One in three teens said a partner texted them up to 30 times in one hour to check up on them.
It's time to talk
The high school students organizing the event see the need for a conversation.
"Social media makes it easier to bully because you don't have to confront that person. You can just type it out," said South High School's Zoe Stewart, 15.
The issue often gets overlooked by adults because they don't understand the seriousness of digital dialogue, said Nathan Nordstedt, 17, president of Start Strong.
"Cyber abuse is an up-and-coming issue," he said. "It's so much easier to be mean over technology. People are breaking up over Facebook. A lot of times, people don't even know they are in abusive relationships because they just accept that sort of behavior as normal."
The students see art as a way to shed more light on a growing problem. Information for parents will also be available during the show.
"These young adults have a lot of passion, and the amount of work they've put into this show demonstrates their commitment to making a difference," Simon said. "We need their parents involved, too, though."
Dominique Witherspoon-Jefferson, 16, who goes to Northwest High, said he is particularly excited about the variety of art that will be part of the show.
"Art isn't just pictures," he said. "It's performances and music, too. Music is a big part of our society and it's going to be a big part of us understanding this issue."
If you go
'what's luv got to do wit' it 2'
What: Multi-media artworks and performances by Wichita students exploring digital communication and dating
Where: The Shopkeeper's Gallery (second floor of Hewitt's Antiques), 228 N. Market
When: Final Friday reception and show, 6-10 p.m. today
How much: Free