What should happen to kids who sext?
When the principal of a well-regarded Bethesda middle school learned that kids had bought and sold sexual images of girls who were said to have willingly posed for them, he called in Montgomery County police to investigate.
Pyle Middle School Principal Michael J. Zarchin had no choice but to bring in authorities to see if any laws had broken.
But that doesn’t mean the kids should have the legal book thrown at them. This should be handled outside the law. Surely there should be some consequences, but these young people are not criminals.
Kids do stupid things--not all of them all the time, but enough of them enough of the time so that it is up to adults to help save them from themselves.
This is especially true in this era of sexting, when technology gives kids a tool to make really humiliating mistakes that will follow them into adulthood.
There is no consensus about how to deal with young people who sext, in a culture where sexually explicit images are everywhere.
In many states, kids who send or receive sexually explicit photos or videos by cellphone or computer risk being declared sex offenders--a label that will affect them for the rest of their lives--and charged with child pornography, according to a recent New York Times story.
More than a dozen states are considering reducing the penalties for sexting, and last year, Nebraska, Utah and Vermont did. Nebraska law, for example, now differentiates between sexting activities: There’s no penalty for kids under 18 who send their own sexually explicit picture to a recipient who wants to receive it and is at least 15 years old. But a teen who then forwards the image to other people can face child pornography charges, a felony that can bring five years in prison.
With thousands of kids sexting every day, it doesn’t make much sense to criminalize all of them.
In fact, Rosalind Wiseman, who spent months researching the subject for a recent article in Family Circle, said she believes sexting is more common than current statistics suggest--and even those show that it is widespread. In 2008, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that 20 percent of kids 13 to 19 had sent partially or completely nude pictures of themselves or someone they knew.
“I don’t think it’s possible to walk down the hallway [of many schools today] today and not see a naked picture of someone [on a student’s cell phone],” she told me.
Parents, she said, have to stop burying their heads in the sand.
They should talk plainly with their children about why sending these pictures is wrong, and why forwarding them is just as bad or worse.
“Parents should tell kids, ‘Even if you get it and send it, I’m going to consider you responsible for the humiliation of another individual.’”
And parents should reconsider allowing kids to have cellphones, certainly at night. That’s when a lot of inappropriate material is sent.
“I say to parents: “Tell your child that the use of a cell phone is a privilege and not a right. Use it as an extension of our family values. If you use it to humiliate someone, I take it away.”
Cell phone manufacturers should reintroduce phones without cameras. Kids don’t really need them. And parents should not by shy about checking out what their kids are doing online.
It is often useful for kids to learn from their mistakes. Sometimes, though, it’s better to stop them from making mistakes that will haunt them.
What do you think should be the consequences for kids who sext? What about the kids who send their own pictures? Kids who pass pictures to others?
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| April 16, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
Categories: Health, Montgomery County Public Schools, Parents | Tags: Pyle Middle School, Pyle and sexting, Pyle sexting scandal, Rosalind Wiseman, Whitman and sexting, sexting, sexting and Pyle and WHitman
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