Thursday, May 8, 2014

truths about--and consequences for--teenagers

In Barrington IL, school administrators and parents are trying to teach students not to share pornographic images. Pornographic images were shared--via text messages--among a large number of students. At that time, the images were deleted from all the phones but another incident occurred recently and may result in a couple of students being charged with felonies because the images are considered child porn.
...although middle and high school students are “regularly taught about safe online behaviors,” the district is considering introducing “age-appropriate lessons” on sexting in upper elementary grades.
Will those lessons about sexting go the way of the DARE program?
DARE is very popular with students, school administrators, police, and the general public. This, in spite of the fact that research over the decades has repeatedly demonstrated that DARE is not only ineffective, but also sometimes counterproductive. That is, students who graduate from DARE are sometimes more likely than others to drink or do drugs.
Kids get frequent warnings about the dangers of sharing too much on the Internet. A current Facebook stunt is to post a picture and ask people to 'like' it; the goal is to show kids how far and fast a picture will travel via social media. Because posting an indiscreet selfie can embarrass you far, far away and very, very soon.

Teaching kids why they shouldn't share too much information, while certainly not pointless, is ineffective, as are many lessons we deliver about personal safety. One night, a group of high schoolers around our kitchen table all shared the codes that opens the garage doors at their homes, laughing about the warnings their parents had given them. They have all been told not to share that information but they did it anyway. At that age, very little bad has happened to them and they cannot conceive the unexpected hairpin turns ahead in their lives.

Telling them they shouldn't drink is a lesson they will understand and then ignore. Not every kid, of course. Some will absorb the lesson and follow the recommended course of action, "just say no". Many kids don't drink booze, have sex, or smoke. 

Many more do, though. They have all heard the advice to stay away from booze/pot/sex/etc. and they decide to try it anyway. They know the dangers of drunk driving, STDs, and drug overdoses. They know they could be arrested for drunk driving or for having illegal substances in their possession. They may even be aware that sex with the wrong partner could have lifelong consequences for one or both partners. They do not think it will happen to them.

They will still drink booze, smoke cigarettes or pot, and have sex. All that knowledge, all those warnings...for nothing?

Probably not for nothing. At some point, kids grow up and those lessons take hold. Many grownups look back to their foolish days and shake their heads. What were we thinking?

The same thing will happen with advice not to share excessively on social media, not to take suggestive or nude selfies, not to pull out the iPhone and record that couple doing naughty things in the corner. Kids hear the advice, they understand some of the dangers...and then they do it anyway.

The question isn't will they or won't they; they question is what should happen when they do?

If we charge kids with felonies, do we honestly think that will keep other kids from sharing naughty pictures? All our lessons about drugs and booze and sex have not stopped kids from drinking, smoking, and having sex. Why would we think we can control a new kind of foolishness?

Advice for the Barrington students includes:
If a person forwards a sexual image of someone underage, that recipient is as responsible for that image as the original sender. A distributor could face child pornography charges, go to jail and be required to register as a sex offender.
Is that really what we want to happen to our students? Do we really want them to be on the sex offender registry (for life, in some states) for foolishness? Child pornography includes images that are shared freely and willingly by the teens themselves. Do we really want the default reaction to be to charge them with a crime? 

We need to look at our criminal laws and decide if it makes sense to insist that foolishness is criminal since that particular kind of foolishness--indiscreet sharing--is not going away anytime soon, no matter how many times we tell kids it is a bad idea.

Computers, laptops, tablets, video game consoles, cell phones...the opportunities for online hijinks are not diminishing. The number of kids who will end up on the registry and with a felony on their record will only increase.

To pretend that we can control what kids do online might be a worse foolishness.

1 comment:

Ethan Edwards said...

Good post. This stuff is outrageous. In some ways we protect our teens (maybe too much). But then in something like this society gets vicious.