I’ve stayed out of the sexting discussion, as others have already admirably discussed the lunacy of prosecuting the young women for sending out photographs of themselves as kiddie porn, and the recipients and disseminators as sex offenders. There’s a reason we call them children: they exercise childish judgment and do stupid things. They think nothing of consequences and only of the moment. They do themselves harm in a million different ways without the slightest clue that it’s harm at all. Because they are children.
But as Randazza at the Legal Satyricon notes, the compulsion to “do something” about sexting is picking up traction, This morning, a “town hall” type meeting was held on Good Morning America, with Cynthia Logan front and center. She is a particularly sympathetic mother, as her daughter committed suicide after a nude photo sent to her boyfriend was widely disseminated. It is the most horrible outcome for a parent there can be.
But not every problem demands a criminal solution.
The GMA town hall had a young woman, who sent a nude photo of herself to her boyfriend who subsequently spread it around following their breakup. She said it was the stupidest thing the ever did. Then her mother, crying, explained that she had no idea that this would be a problem, the sort of thing that she should have discussed with her daughter and warned her against.
A young man was then asked to speak. He had sent around a photo of his former girlfriend, and he paid dearly for it. He was forced to leave college, prosecuted and sentenced to probation, and required to register as a sex offender.
At this moment, Cynthia Logan, sitting in the front row of the meeting, spoke out in a very official voice. She first asked the young man for his name, which he foolishly gave up on national television, and then told him that it would have been her choice that he be placed on probation and forced to appear in front of his peers to warn them of the consequences of committing his crime.
When the young woman spoke, Logan sat mute. When the mother of the young woman spoke, Logan sat mute. When the young man spoke, Logan went into action. As it happens, to criticize the young woman for her incredibly stupid deed would have been to criticize her own daughter. To criticize the mother for her failure to exercise parental influence, if not control, over her daughter would have been to criticize herself. But to criticize the young man removed all blame from Logan’s side of the equation and find the perfect target, one that imposed no fault that touched Cynthia Logan’s world.
I will not blame Cynthia Logan for seeking to blame someone outside her sphere. But I cannot silently accept her position that blame falls only one stupid child and no one else. Everyone involved in this monumentally stupid trend shares blame. And of the blameworthy, we need to bear in mind that two parts of the triad are children. Stupid children. Foolish children. Children who exercise incredibly childish judgment. But children.
At the same time, it’s hard to place too much blame on the parents. Teenagers share little of their world with parents. Despite their best, most attentive efforts, parents are given little access to the secret world of teenagers. They can discuss, lecture, cajole, implore, their children to use their heads, to do nothing that will come back to harm them. Children sit there but don’t necessarily listen. Even if they listen, they don’t necessarily believe. And even if they believe, they don’t necessarily accept that any harm will ever come to them. Every child believes that he or she is immune. They are teenage superheroes, to whom no harm can come.
There is no doubt that sexting is simply an absurdly bad, dangerous, foolish thing to do. There is similarly no doubt that forwarding inappropriate pictures to others is terribly wrong. But turning foolish children into criminals, whether the young woman or young man, only adds to the body count.
Aggressively educating all children as to the harm that befalls foolish, childish conduct will help, though if my memory of my teenage years serves me, there is nothing a parent or school official can say that would have a conclusive impact. Even the learned wisdom of those who made, and suffered for, the mistake will present only a marginal remedy, since they obviously aren’t superheroes like those who have yet to suffer. But it’s better than nothing, and will help at least some young people to not do something so unbearably stupid.
We are thus left without a magic bullet. Some problems are like that, defying an easy answer and denying a singular culprit. This isn’t the message that Cynthia Logan wants us to believe, and is inconsistent with well-meaning prosecutors around the country who feel compelled to do something about this problem by shooting wildly. The knee-jerk solution of proclaiming some child a criminal and unleashing society’s anger on them, however, is a horrible response. It may make the mother of a teenage girl who committed suicide feel as if she’s accomplished something, but it is a false solution.
We can’t stop children from being childish. But we can stop ourselves from imposing childish solutions on them for being stupid.