Too young to be in pictures

Drudge is linking this story today:

GREENSBURG, Pa. — Three teenage girls who allegedly sent nude or semi-nude cell phone pictures of themselves, and three male classmates in a Greensburg Salem High School who received them, are charged with child pornography.

Police said the girls are 14 or 15, and the boys charged with receiving the photos are 16 or 17. None are being identified because most criminal cases in Pennsylvania juvenile courts are not public.

“It was a self portrait taken of a juvenile female taking pictures of her body, nude,” said Capt. George Seranko of the Greensburg Police Department.

Police said school officials learned of the photos in October. That’s when a student was seen using a cell phone during school hours, which violates school rules. The phone was seized, and the photos were found on it, police said. When police investigated, other phones with more pictures were seized.

“Taking nude pictures of yourself, nothing good can come out of it,” said Seranko.

Yikes. What they did was stupid, but the legal system is way out of bounds if it seeks to permanently ruin the future lives of these teenagers with child pornography convictions. The amount of humiliation they will suffer as a result of this stunt going public should be sufficient.

Apparently these uninhibited Pennsylvania teens are part of a new phenomenon that includes everyone from the kids next door to Disney teen star Vanessa Hudgens, a disturbing wide-spread trend known as “sexting”: do-it-yourself nude photography distributed among teens via cell phones and the Internet.

“If I were to go through the cell phones in this building right now of 1,500 students, I would venture to say that half to two-thirds have indecent photos, either of themselves or somebody else in school,” said Jim Brown, school resource officer at Glen Este High School.

Turpin High School Principal Peggy Johnson thinks that the results would be similar – about 50-50 – in her building.

According to the national study, most teens who send sexually suggestive content send to boyfriends or girlfriends, while others say they send such material to those they want to date or hook up with or to someone they only know online.


When kids are 14 or 15, Brown said, they don’t often make the right decisions.

“They think, ‘I have the right to decide what’s best for me.’ The next thing you know, it’s on YouTube, and you become an international star because you’re exposing part of your body. … Then, they want to retrieve their good reputation, and they can’t.”

Kids have lost scholarships and jobs because of what’s posted on Web sites, Brown said.

Many kids have “wised up,” taking photos of body parts, but not faces, to avoid detection.

And while some teens intend for the suggestive photos to be seen by only one person, they might not think those photos will be forwarded or that something posted on the Internet lives on.

“I don’t think it even crosses their mind,” Daniel “Woody” Breyer, chief deputy prosecutor in Clermont County, said. “I think that kids are in the moment. What’s going to happen today? What are we doing tonight? What are we doing this weekend?”

Why the sudden explosion of home-made porn among teens? Much of it has to do with the volume of Internet-based porn consumed by adults.

Christopher Kraus, director of the Postponing Sexual Involvement program at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, said that in his 20 years of working in adolescent medicine at the hospital, he’s yet to see a teenage trend that does not mirror a larger adult trend.

“Adolescent sexuality is part of normal human development,” Kraus said. “Teens are trying to figure out how to express their sexuality appropriately. They are learning, and they are learning from adults.”

Kraus, who also is project manager for the Ohio Department of Health’s new Guidelines for Sexual Health and Adoption Education, Grades 7-12, said teens are learning how to sort out many sexual messages in the media, including text messages.

Ten years ago (has it really been that long?) teens were experimenting with oral sex because it was the hot new thing (the President did it), and supposedly it didn’t threaten one’s virginity. It was also touted as a sure-fire way to win a boy’s affection, self-esteem be damned. DIY porn seems to be the latest variation on this age-old theme — how can I get that certain boy or girl to like me? Flirting and passing notes are old-school. Self-shot nudie pics seem to be the level to which teens have sunk in order to attract the opposite sex. Pics are “safe” in that they are free from STD’s, but their impact on a young person’s life can be devastating when they end up on MySpace or Photobucket and then go “viral” through emails and bulletin board postings.

I’m going to forgo the standard sermon on declining moral standards due to the omnipresence of sexually explicit images in contemporary society and conclude with a sobering thought — over the years I have become convinced that teenage sexuality will become the next big battlefield of the Sexual Revolution. Teenagers as young as 13 or 14 will be promoted by the culture at large as fair targets for adult sexuality. And the more teenagers sexualize themselves, the easier it will be for adults to say, “see, they’re already doing it — what’s the harm”? As a parent, few things frighten me more than this.

As I stated earlier, I don’t believe that ruining a teenager’s adult life by finding him guilty of a sexual offense is an appropriate way to handle this problem. But we should be leery of outright dismissal of this kind of activity as “normal” and “good clean fun.” And we should resist anyone who suggests that this kind of exploitation should be promoted as a “safe alternative” to sexual intercourse.

This kind of behavior can be stopped only if teenagers have been taught a strong ethic about the value of themselves and others, and if they have a clear understanding of what is appropriate and not appropriate to reveal about themselves. Only responsible parents can teach children those things. These days, though, one has to wonder how many adults fail to comprehend them as well.

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