The Stupidest Thing Ever

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.

9 comments on “The Stupidest Thing Ever

  1. Cathy

    The thing that bothers me most about the sexting controversy is the underlying assumption that there is somehow something wrong with a naked picture of a woman. Hide your body, be embarrassed by what you’ve grown into. That there might even be anything to regret about these pictures is all a product of society’s insistence on fetishizing female sexuality. If the naked form were no big deal, then sexting would similarly be no big deal either. It’s only because people keep screaming “Bad! Bad! Bad!” that it is. But I find the whole thing incredibly disempowering to women. It’s their bodies; they shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed of them.

  2. SHG

    A very valid point, though if it wasn’t for the cultural jollies that boys get from looking at girls’ bodies, there wouldn’t be much point in sexting in the first place.  But as long as the taboo remains in effect, despite the question of whether there should be any taboo at all, I would still suggest that the decision to make so bold a choice remains beyond the exercise of childhood judgment.  The problem isn’t grown women sending nude photos to others, but teenagers.  It’s a decision they aren’t yet equipped to make.

  3. martin

    Yet another social crisis not in need of politicians’ attention. Cynthia Logan is a single-issue activist. She should mind her own business. Her extreme case will make very bad law.

    …with well-meaning prosecutors around the country who feel compelled to do something about this problem…

    Much too generous SHG. These prosecutors are ADULTS that should know better, unlike the foolish young people they’re going after. Additionally, they destroy lives.
    IMHO any DA who makes a criminal out of these kids is a, moralistic jerk (or worse, I’m being polite on your blog), who sees bra pics as CP or feels his mission is to protect children from themselves when he hangs them out to dry. Idiots!
    Reading the linked court decision in this post
    opened my eyes. No conncetion between what was in the media and what really happened.

  4. Shana Skaletsky

    When this issue first picked up airtime last month, I heard the head of the National Center For Missing and Exploited Children give his $.02 on this. He was, as you might expect, all for prosecution in these cases. He spoke of how some kids don’t know the long-term impact it could have on them with respect to college, future employers, etc. Fine, look, kids (and I emphasize kids) can be foolish and dumb. I know firsthand–I did lots of stuff when I was a teenager that fell under the stupid/dumb rubric. Yet did this guy ever consider the long-term impact of prosecution of these kids? Like, in some states, a felony conviction and/or sex offender registration, two things that could really mess up someone’s life?

  5. SHG

    Sure, I try to give prosecutors the benefit of the doubt, and everybody wants to hang me for it.  So much for being a nice guy.

  6. SHG

    What is interesting about this is how an “advocate” for children, caught between a child on one side and another child on the other, chooses which child to sacrifice to the prosecution god.  But of course, the idea of neither is never even considered.  Someone must pay!

  7. Rick Horowitz

    Well, you have to admit, it was pretty strange. I mean, seriously, “well-meaning”???

    More and more, prosecutors appear as unthinking piranhas, concerned only with racking up prosecutions and bringing people under the thumb of government.

    There are decent people out there who are prosecutors, but those involved in prosecuting children for being children…. I’m sorry, there’s no way “well-meaning” applies to them.

  8. LittleA

    I’m with Cathy. What’s the real danger I keep hearing about with sexting? It has to do with damage to a girl’s value. Because, omg, people have seen her boobs, she’s now somehow worth less. Completely ridiculous. She’s worth no less and to accept the ridicule of peers who are likely doing the exact same thing is ridiculous. The peers belittling girls who are “sluts” are the problem, not the alleged sluts. But our poisonous culture tells them they’re in the right. Our culture needs a paradigm shift.

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