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Do You Know YouTube?

Days 4/5: Some teens use YouTube to humiliate others -- and to act extremely stupid themselves.

Examples of cyberbullying are common. Most videos are so grainy they're only viewed a few hundred times, but what if those hits are from people at your kid's high school -- or the video is of your child? Teachers are also frequent targets, purposely provoked until they explode. Or worse: Recently a Charlotte, North Carolina, teacher demanded that YouTube take down a video someone had made of her -- and her butt -- at a fifth-grade commencement ceremony. (The clip was set to Van Halen's song "Hot for Teacher.") But before it was removed by YouTube, it garnered more than 200,000 views and was copied onto other Web sites. It took on a viral life of its own.

Feeling bad for all the unwilling victims, I decide to look for kids who voluntarily do foolish things. I search for "my first striptease," and find underage girls happily bouncing their (clothed) breasts for the cameras. "Girls will disrobe, perform oral sex on a banana -- then post the video for a boy to watch," Aftab says. By the time she realizes what she's done, she can't call it back. The videos can end up on MySpace or Facebook or, worse, be warehoused by sites selling amateur images.

Experts aren't sure why today's teen girls are so enthusiastic about baring it all for the camera. Some of it is cultural -- after all, Paris Hilton's sex-on-the-Internet escapades made her a celebrity, and Girls Gone Wild movies are a huge campus hit. Aftab points out that the always-available technology, like cell phone video cameras and laptop webcams, make it all too easy for girls to experiment with sexual idiocy.

And rampant oversexualization isn't the only visual testimony to kids' indiscretion. Boys film themselves drinking until they vomit or running headlong into fences. Not only could he be prosecuted if caught on film doing something illegal, but "that fence-diving kid doesn't realize he could also be rejected for a summer job because his video shows poor judgment," says Amanda Lenhart, a senior researcher who specializes in teens at the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Kids tend to think they're safe because they aren't identified, she says, but all it takes is one person to bring the film to an authority's attention.