We need to talk about sexting

“Consequences” is a buzzword in many parenting manuals of our modern age. Letting a child experience the natural consequences of say, forgetting their gym shoes by sitting out of gym rather than the parent bringing the shoes to school, is a good lesson in responsibility, independence and anticipating consequences of their actions.

The idea is to reinforce this early on with gym shoes and lunches — in a safe environment when the consequences are pretty tame.

Resounding parenting duh! notwithstanding — understanding consequences is a challenge for kids. It is a challenge in today’s age of overprotective parenting; it was a challenge long before.

Science explains that the part of our brains that handle anticipating consequences is the brain’s most recent innovation, and that it doesn’t fully mature until the ripe old age of 25 years old for women, and 30 years old for men.

Pair this with another recent innovation — the smartphone — and you have turbo-charged access to bad decisions that can follow a person around for a long, long time.

Sync this with Michigan’s 1931 Child Sexually Abusive Material Law — and all the ways teens and children can “distribute child sexually abusive material” i.e. nude selfies.

Even when consensual between teens, taking the picture could be a 20-year prison sentence. Saving the picture could be a 4-year prison sentence. Sending it could net seven years. Conviction on any of these felonies comes with mandatory registration as a sex offender.

Remember when you thought 30 years old was OLD?

The laws can age a teen before their time.

We’re fortunate in that many in the education, enforcement and judicial communities that deal with the issue take the circumstances into context.

But they are constantly tiptoeing a tightrope between protecting the kids from predators, and protecting them from their own worst impulses.

Legislators in Colorado, Washington and Virginia revamped laws to take the juvenile sexting trend into account.

We’d like to see Michigan address this on a state level as well, carving out a place for these specially teen-related issues while maintaining “teeth” in the child porn laws that protect our kids.

But that’s just the beginning of the conversation. Sexting consequences need to be a part of every sex education curriculum, starting in middle school.

Parents need to have their own talks with their kids, as they know their kids best and they also control their children’s ability to take and share these pictures. Parental responsibility is paramount: If your kid is too young for “the talk,” they’re too young for a phone.

Photos shared are forever photos. Children may think that photos on platforms like Snapchat evaporate. Not true. Email isn’t secure; social media is not secure. Nothing is secure. Youthful belief that a girlfriend or boyfriend would never share nude images with anyone else is proven wrong each day.

We hear story after story where images get out and are shared, breaking hearts and potentially having long-term legal consequences.

Anticipating these consequences is a lesson learned over time, and shaped by experience. Kids think they’re immortal; they’re not, but their photos could be.

— Traverse City Record-Eagle

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