Sexting Entices Teens
'Pranks' can lead to lifelong scars; parents must step in
It likely started out as a prank, a few Colorado high schoolers sharing pictures of themselves in their underwear, or less, with fellow classmates.
Without any adult supervision, however, it quickly blossomed into an all-out shared photo gallery with dozens of students — possibly up to 100 — in the sleepy Colorado town of Cañon City. They sent and received partially or fully nude photos through text messaging.
And that’s a big problem, one hardly confined to Colorado.
Known as "sexting," sending and receiving pornographic imagery involving children is categorized as a Class 3 Felony in the courts. The worst offenders potentially face life as registered sex offenders, along with fines and jail time as deemed appropriate by the courts.
The local police also are investigating whether any of the children were coerced into participating, something all too likely in the peer-pressure world of high school, and whether there were any adults involved. The latter could prove to be a much more serious offense.
The real problem is that in a lot of ways, the children are just being kids in our modern, hypersexualized culture. They've been exposed to an endless stream of intimate images, TV shows, movies and even song lyrics that encourage early, active awareness of their bodies. With portable computers in their pockets and purses, it's no wonder they've turned to texting and teen-aimed apps to communicate with their peers — away from the prying eyes of parents and other adults.
Twenty, 30, 40 years ago, it was a non-issue. Children might have been "playing doctor" in the quiet corner of the local park, but there wasn't a digital component or any permanence to their timid indiscretions.
The real problem is that in a lot of ways, the children are just being kids in our modern, hypersexualized culture.
But that's no longer true in the information age, and, without being aware of the consequences, these Colorado schoolchildren have done something dumb by sharing inappropriate pictures and have changed their lives, potentially forever.
And the worst part is they're not alone.
A few days after the Cañon City story broke, two 14-year-old boys were arrested in New York after one of them allegedly engaged in a sex act with a female while the other surreptitiously filmed it and then distributed the video to friends and classmates. Twenty other children in New York were suspended as part of that incident, too.
Ask a teenager, and the odds are good they've receive at least one inappropriate photo in the past few months, whether from someone they're in a relationship with, a friend showing off or, worst of all, part of someone or a group of kids cyberbullying another.
There are laws surrounding child pornography that come into play with sexting, and they rarely differentiate based on the age of the recipient. So if two 15-year-old children are in an intimate relationship and they send each other nude photos, just having the images on the phone can bring down the full weight of the law.
Child pornography is also considered a "sex crime," so a child convicted is potentially destined to a lifetime of being on the sex-offenders list, having to disclose the conviction on college applications, job applications and even register with local police departments each time they move.
That, of course, leads to the question of whether kids doing stupid kid things should be considered a major crime. Surprisingly, the courts are still mulling over the issue.
Ask a teenager, and the odds are good they’ve receive at least one inappropriate photo in the past few months.
Academics Marsha Levick and Kristina Moon argue that, when compared to the traditional public policy behind criminalizing child pornography, sexting, in comparison, generally "occurs without the exploitative circumstances that are central to the production of conventional child pornography."
Regardless of intent, however, yes, it is illegal, and there's even an increase in the potential consequences if more than 20 images are found on a device, a definite problem when there are dozens of children participating in a sexting photo sharing ring.
Bringing down the full weight of the law on teens in a situation like this is likely not the best choice, that much everyone seems to agree.
Defense attorney Danny Cevallos suggests the "latest scandal in Colorado is symptomatic of adults rushing to judgment. The first indicator is the imposition of summary, mass punishment. Any time a high school cancels a game or a season, or even a sports program, they almost always do so with zero due process, and before an investigation is complete," he wrote in CNN. "Worse, this clunky mode of mass sentencing invariably punishes innocent team members."
Finally, Colorado lawyer and former Denver District Attorney Karen Steinhauser added the most critical point: "Parents don’t know how to balance the fine line between giving kids privacy, letting them make decisions — maybe the wrong decisions — and hovering or being the helicopter parent."
That's the real story -- not that children do dumb things when they're fired up by hormones and surrounded by an increasingly risqué culture, but that parents need to catch up.