Debate Forum Left 01/05/11

Teenagers can’t be punished for their own stupidity

By Ben Tompkins

Benjamin Tomkins

Legislators are fixers.  They see a problem, want to help and naturally assume the best way to do so is to make a new law. So in 1996, when the state of Ohio updated chapter 2907:323 of its legal code, it seemed OK to begin with:

No person shall do any of the following:

[Create or possess images of naked minors without a really, really good reason. Like medical stuff.]

Now I wasn’t physically in the room, but I’m betting that the people who sketched up the line “No person …” probably weren’t even dimly imagining a world where teenagers would have camera phones and send naked pictures of themselves to each other.  Why would I be willing to stake my journalistic integrity on an assumption like that?  Well, the first time anyone ever used a camera phone to share a picture was in 1997 when Philippe Kahn, the inventor, sent 2,000 people a picture of his newborn.  So I’m guessing…

Although that broad language technically included 13-year-olds with a Polaroid of their sister in the shower, it was functionally sufficient to cleanly deal with the intended goal of criminalizing people who created and distributed child pornography, without resulting in unintended consequences. I’m hard pressed to see how this law was intended to make pedophiles out of similarly aged teens, and based on all other legislation surrounding sex between consenting teenagers, it doesn’t appear that the government thinks it has any place AT ALL involving itself in this behavior.  That job is left up to the parents.

Look, teens engage in activities which can have serious consequences all the time, and generally it’s because they are idiots and don’t think things through. But we must be very careful when we decide that our government should begin writing laws governing the behavior of our children.  If two teenagers get pregnant (yeah, both of them), the government doesn’t prosecute them for participating in underage sex. It’s a private matter between two families. And besides, if there are serious damages to be dealt with such as the embarrassment of having your picture sent all over creation, we actually have a very good system in place for dealing with this kind of thing. It’s called the civil court system. That’s what it’s there for; problems between individuals that don’t constitute crimes against society at large. We shouldn’t be using the iron fist of our government or our legal system to inject ourselves into a situation of this nature.

Besides, I think it’s fair to say that if teenagers really understood the potential long-term ramifications of this kind of behavior, they’d probably think twice. And if you want to know if teens fully understand the potential ramifications when they engage in sexting, you need look no farther than the following survey conducted by the Cox Communications Teen Online and Wireless Safety Survey:

WHO DOES IT:

19% engaged in sexting (pix)

WHAT DOUCHEBAG THEY SEND IT TO:

60% sent it to a boyfriend/girlfriend

19% sent it to an EX

11% sent it to SOMEONE THEY DIDN’T EVEN KNOW…(OMG, WTF)

WHY THE HELL WOULD THEY DO THIS?

43% sent it because they were asked

40% sent it to have fun (UGTBK)

WHAT CONSEQUENCE DID THEY FAIL TO FORSEE?

30% say the photo was forwarded to someone they didn’t want to see it (PSOS)

9% said it was posted online

12% sent it to the WRONG PERSON… (TSFY)

WHAT DO TEENS CONCLUDE ABOUT THE VALUE OF ENGAGING IN THIS BEHAVIOR?

52% of teens agree with the statement: “People my age are old enough to decide for themselves whether it is all right for them to send nude or sexually suggestive photos of themselves to other people”   (ROTFLMFAO)

Jesus Christ, are you humiliated that these are your kids?  How many of you actually slapped yourselves in the forehead reading that? I think we can all agree that that survey leads us to a single, solitary, inescapable conclusion: “Teenagers have no common sense.”

I know, a revelation, right? But it’s actually much more profound than that. Recently, a joint study conducted by Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School discovered that the human brain doesn’t develop anywhere near as quickly as we thought it did.  It turns out that most kids’ brains have well-developed information processing circuitry by 12-14 years old.  However, the brain is “only about 80 percent developed in adolescents – the frontal lobe, responsible for cognitive processes such as reasoning, planning, and judgment – is not completed until somewhere between ages 25 and 30.”

Wow.  So it appears that it’s actually physiologically unfair to treat teenagers as adults.  They literally don’t have the brains to think things through like an adult.  Let’s keep our courts out of this one, allow the civil courts to handle things, and exempt our stupid kids.

Benjamin Tompkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, CO.  He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue.


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