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Holding Schools Legally Responsible for Kids’ “Sexting”?

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by Izzy Kalman
March 26, 2009
Psychology Today Blog, A Psychological Solution to Bullying

One of the saddest things in the world is when children take their own lives. While there are many reasons that people do such things, it is usually because they feel like victims and they can no longer take the pain.

Some people think that I don’t care about victims because I am against anti-bully laws. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are few people in the world who truly care about victims more than I do. That is why I stayed up until the middle of the night for months after the Columbine shooting, learning to use computer programs and creating my website that teaches kids how not to be victims. It’s why i have devoted my professional life to this cause.

A great tragedy happened last summer. An article on Cincinnatti.com from March 22 [http://news.cincinnati.com/article/20090322/NEWS01/903220312/-1/TODAY] tells of Jessica Logan, a lovely 18 year old girl, who took her own life. She took a nude picture of herself and sent it to her boyfriend, who then sent it on to others, and it reached hundreds of eyes. She was then endlessly tormented by kids for being a “slut, porn queen, whore.”

Her parents, rightly so, want to educate teens about the dangers of “sexting,” of sending pictures of a sexual nature over cell phones and other electronic media. They are also actively campaigning to have laws passed against this practice. This law, by the way, will hold schools responsible for the sexting that kids do, as though the schools are making kids do it!

One part of what they are doing has my full support: the educational part. People need to understand the potential consequences of their actions so that they won’t do harmful things. What is done in fun or with good intentions can have the most horrific outcomes.

The part that is mistaken is lobbying to have laws passed against sexting. It is so tempting to believe that laws are the solutions to all social problems. It would be wonderful if this were so. We wouldn’t need psychology or education. Just pass enough laws and before we know it, we will be living in Utopia. However, philosophers have known for thousands of years that this is impossible. Have laws against street drugs solved the problem of drug usage? Have the No Child Left Behind laws solved the country’s education problems? The more laws we pass, the more we turn our country into a police state.

What a new law does is create another class of criminal. And it also creates employment for lawyers and law enforcement officers. This, of course, is great for lawyers. The USA has the highest ratio of lawyers to population of any major country, and lawyers need to earn a living. It can also be good for law enforcement officers if the laws are accompanied by increases in crime-fighting budgets. As it stands, law enforcement agencies rarely have enough money to do a good job at what they are currently supposed to do. If they did, they wouldn’t have to instruct policemen to give so many traffic tickets to raise money.

The solution to most social problems is not law but education. Couples cannot be made to get along by making it illegal for them to get angry at each other. But they can go to marriage counselors to learn how to handle marital issues without getting angry. Parents can’t be forced to be better parents by making it illegal to have child-rearing problems, but they can go to parenting classes to learn how to be better parents. Kids can’t be made to get along with each other by making it illegal for them to be mean, but they can be taught how to handle social problems.

If anyone thinks that making sexting a crime will make life better, just click on the links on the right hand side of the Cincinnatti.com article [http://news.cincinnati.com/article/20090322/NEWS01/903220312/-1/TODAY] and you will see how many headaches are arising from law enforcement getting involved in sexting incidents. These are the articles currently listed:
Teens sue over ‘sexting’ charges (3/26/2009)
Cops: Sex images found on boy’s phone (3/19/2009)
Girl admits sending nude photo of self (3/14/2009)
‘Sexting’ leads to charges (3/5/2009)
Charges filed in ‘sexting’ case (3/4/2009)
Cell phone violation reveals ‘sexting’ (3/4/2009)
Mason investigates ‘sexting’ incident (3/3/2009)

It is too late now, but Jessica Logan could have been taught how foolish it is to send nude pictures of herself, even to her boyfriend. Had she never sent the picture, she would still be alive. Even after she had done this foolish act and begun being tormented by her peers, she could have been taught how to handle it in a more effective manner. And she would still be alive today. But the education was missing.

If you have ever been involved in a lawsuit, either as a plaintiff or as a defendant, you know how miserable your life becomes until the suit is over, and even afterwards, especially if you are the loser. Had Jessica had the legal authorities involved investigating, interrogating and prosecuting her peers for spreading the picture she took of herself, her life would hardly have been any more pleasant, and it is doubtful whether it would have saved her life. How would she and her family have dealt with the defendants’ inevitable defense that she herself took and sent the nude picture?

Mr and Mrs. Logan, please believe me, I do sincerely grieve for you and your precious lost daughter. I, too, am a parent and am thankful that I have not had to experience what you are going through. I can’t even begin to imagine the torment. But please do the right thing. Say “yes” to education but “no” to law. Publicize your tragedy so that no one will ever have to go through what your daughter has. I pledge to help you with this. I will soon write instructions for kids on sexting and put it on my website so that  kids will not have to suffer the way Jessica did.

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