At the top of the list of the myriad things I’m thankful for is that the digital age wasn’t not around in the 1970s to document my extreme adolescent folly.
Being a parent of a college kid now, I cringe in parental sympathy when I hear the tales of teenagers busted for taking naked or lurid selfies and sending them out as some kind of oh-my-god-what-in-the-sam-hell-were-you-thinking flirtation.
I’m one of those parents who agonized over having the “stranger danger” talk with my daughter. Should we protect kids from what plenty of us are sure is a planet-full of perverts, all hoping to accost them? Or does that “protection” only make them jaded humans like me, who see people talking to my kid as potential suspects? In full disclosure I cut her grapes in half until she was 17, intent on avoiding the choking hazard.
I know I’m not alone. It’s people like me who were well meaning when they took “sexting” seriously, seeing it as an easy way for pedophiles to make our worst nightmares a reality.
Unfortunately, rather than keeping naked pics of our kids out of the hands of malevolent creeps, we’ve snared thousands of our kids who aren’t bad guys — they’re just stupid guys, and girls.
They’re stupid like the law that snags them. The law says that if you send someone a picture of a provocatively naked minor, you are a sicko felon and we’re going to brand you as that, possibly for life. The law is stupid in that it potentially makes you a sicko felon for life, even if the nastygram was of yourself expressing your 16-year-old stupidity and herd mentality. It makes you a potential sicko felon for life if you’re 17 and your also-teen boyfriend sends you his proudest moment pic and you keep it on your phone.
Keep in mind this is all perfectly legal but equally as stupid for two 18-year-old kids to do. Or, say, a growing list of high-profile inadvertent political celebrities. State officials say that although there have been a handful of over-the-top sex-offender charges filed against minors, none have been convicted — yet. That part of the problem is worse nationally than here. But there are still herds of stupid kids tripped up by this inadvertent law, many ending up in city, county and district courts.
For a while, we just turned a blind eye to the horror stories about kids dragged in as criminals for stunts that don’t meet that criteria under any concept of the term. Lots of sympathy and tongue clucking over devastated lives that lots of people figured were just messes the kids brought on themselves.
That all changed last year when practically all of Cañon City High School in southern Colorado got hauled in because practically everybody was doing it. There were so many kids foolishly passing nudes back and forth that the sheriff of those parts said it would be ridiculous to do anything but give the kids scoldings instead of court summonses.
We were wrong when we took this so seriously. Not that it isn’t stupid, but it’s really not much more stupid than streaking was in the 70s, and it certainly registers about the same or even less on running afoul of felony sensibilities. It’s not nearly as dangerous as passing around trays of magic mushrooms or LSD at concerts. So I’ve been told.
It turns out our society, our media and our digital prowess have created an uncomfortable social problem that we’ve wrongly turned into a criminal problem.
This week, Republican state lawmakers wisely turned back a well-meaning Democratic-led effort to create a new misdemeanor crime of texting your junk to your teenage pals and significant others. The idea is we could get the courts to swat at kids for their inanity, but in a way that is erasable, unlike the Internet.
Just undo this part of the problem. Start with decriminalizing nudie selfie incidents for minors. What we risk in facilitating a genuinely sick 16-year-old, we gain back by realizing the vast majority of kids should never be dressed up as criminals. We just have to find a way to persuade them dress before they hit “post.”