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Sat., Mar. 28
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Parenting should win over prosecution

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I learn about things just about every day that disturb me. It’s an occupational hazard. But every once in a while I read a story that nags me to my core.

I’m referring to a police report we received Friday about three teens — ages 17, 15 and 14 — who are facing misdemeanor obscenity charges related to some nude photos that they are accused of sending as cell phone text messages.

We don’t know everything there is to know about the circumstances that landed these particular kids in trouble, so I’m not going to talk about that specific case. But the story got me thinking about similar stories I am hearing more and more all the time.

Kids taking nude photos of each other or themselves isn’t a new thing. I can remember when I was a teenager hearing about kids getting caught with nude photos of their boyfriends or girlfriends. One boy I knew was grounded for what seemed like forever after his mother found a provocative photo of a girl he was dating. He got in big trouble.

I can’t, however, remember him arrested for it. His parents were the ones to make sure he learned the error of his ways, not the police.

Kids do dumb things, and some of the dumb things they do, especially if somebody could or does get hurt, merit criminal charges. But taking nude photos of each other, while not the brightest thing to do, shouldn’t result in jail time. I have read stories about young teens in New York and other states getting slapped with child pornography distribution charges because they took an inappropriate photo of a willing boyfriend or girlfriend - or even themselves - and sent it to somebody else.

These momentary lapses of judgment are resulting in prosecution every day. This is a gross misapplication of laws that are intended to target predators, not kids who should — but apparently don’t — know better.

We aren’t talking about adult predators disseminating lewd or sexually explicit photos of innocent children. We are talking about kids doing something dumb without understanding the potential consequences, as kids are prone to do.

Don’t get me wrong. “Sexting,” as it has been dubbed, is cause for parental alarm. With technology offering easy access to publishing materials online for quite literally all the world to see, somebody’s life could be tarnished forever once the “share” button is pushed. In that respect, kids don’t just play I’ll show you mine if you show me yours anymore. They play I’ll show you mine and then I’ll take a photo of yours to post on Facebook. And if that photo makes it online, it is in all likelihood there for good.

It is a potentially serious matter, but not one that should result in a criminal charge that will haunt a child for a good portion of his or her life. Being haunted by an embarrassing photo is one thing. Being haunted by a criminal record to rival that of a bona fide pornographer is quite another.

It is also evidence of a disturbing trend where police action is taking the place of parenting. That is not the direction our criminal justice system should go.

These kids need to be made to understand the potential consequences of their actions through parental discipline, not the state penal code.

Those responsible for meting out the law should weigh the benefits of prosecution in these matters against the harm a criminal charge can do to a teenager whose only crime is being prone to do dumb things.

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