Opinion Brief

Is it time to prosecute sexting teens?

An unfortunate scandal at a Washington state middle school illustrates an intensifying nationwide dilemma

Teens, teachers, and parents have been thrown into turmoil in Lacey, Wash., over a sexting scandal that started when an eighth-grade girl texted a nude photo of herself to her boyfriend, according to The New York Times. They broke up, and he shared the image with another girl, who in turn distributed it widely with the text, "Ho alert!" Soon, thousands of middle schoolers had seen it. Police accused the former boyfriend and two girls of disseminating child pornography, although the charge was lessened to harassment in a plea deal. The case illustrates just how hard it is for school administrators, parents, and police to stop kids from trading sexually explicit photos of themselves in this digital age. Is harsh punishment the answer?  

Yes, criminal charges could help: Charging these teens with a felony turned the case "into an opportunity to teach young people about the dangers of sexting," say the editors of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. But the 14-year-olds who were "burned by playing with fire" aren't the only ones who need a wake-up call. The "parents who were out of the loop" and failed to protect their children in the first place are culpable, too.
"Sexting in Lacey: A cautionary tale"

Criminalizing kids' mistakes just makes matters worse: This case belongs "in a handbook for 'Ways Not to Deal With 13-Year-Old Children,'" says Rosie Gray in The Village Voice. It's obvious to all that "kids can't handle nude pictures of each other responsibly." But teenagers have always bullied each other and made bad decisions about sex — cell phones and the internet just make it easier. And arresting them just compounds the damage.
"Sexting today: Teenagers are awful, the Times reports"

This is a powerful cautionary tale, despite ineffective laws: It's important to share this horror story, says Sandy Hingston at Philadelphia. Kids need to know "a thoughtless click-and-send can have consequences." And existing child porn laws, which "don't take into account the age of the perp," are not set up to deal effectively "with kids being, well, kids."
"A sexting horror story"

Recommended

Did Dry January accomplish anything?
Drinking glasses.
Picture of Harold MaassHarold Maass

Did Dry January accomplish anything?

6 amazing homes with domes
House
Feature

6 amazing homes with domes

The Check-In: 48 hours in San Diego, a long-awaited river cruise, and more
A surfer at Windansea Beach in La Jolla.
Feature

The Check-In: 48 hours in San Diego, a long-awaited river cruise, and more

The Week contest: AI pizza
Paris's first robotic pizzeria.
Feature

The Week contest: AI pizza

Most Popular

The Hogwarts Legacy boycott controversy, explained
Hogwarts Legacy logo photo
Briefing

The Hogwarts Legacy boycott controversy, explained

Linda Ronstadt is the Kate Bush of 2023 thanks to The Last of Us
Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett in The Last of Us
running up that hill

Linda Ronstadt is the Kate Bush of 2023 thanks to The Last of Us

The Adani Group scandal, explained
Gautam Adani.
Briefing

The Adani Group scandal, explained