Americans Need To Grow Up

The ubiquity of social media has created a whole new category of problems, especially for lawmakers and parents. Much of the consternation is understandable and many of the concerns eminently reasonable. But when technology and social media meet America’s deeply-rooted sexual prudery, we get some very unfortunate (not to mention marginally insane) results.

A recent case from Minnesota is illustrative.

A 14-year-old girl is facing charges in Minnesota juvenile courts that could lead to her being placed on a sex offender registry—all for taking a nude selfie and sending it to a boy at her school. Prosecutors say that she violated Minnesota’s child pornography statute, which bans distributing sexually explicit pictures of underaged subjects.

Words fail.

A 14-year old girl showed an absence of good judgment. (That’s sort of the definition of a 14-year old…girl or boy.) This sort of behavior clearly calls for parental intervention; what it just as clearly doesn’t call for is placement on a sex-offender registry.

Parents, schools, and law enforcement around the world are wrestling with how to handle teen sexting. In 2014, a teenage boy in the UK was added to an investigative database after sending a nude snap to a classmate. The Supreme Court in Washington state recently upheld the child pornography conviction of a 17-year-old boy who sent a picture of his erect penis to a 22-year-old woman.

We can expect to see more of these cases in the future because surveys suggest that it’s a common activity among underage teenagers. One recent survey found that 12 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds had sent a sexually explicit image to someone else in their lifetimes—including 4 percent who had done so in the last month. That adds up to millions of teenagers who could be classified as child pornographers by the reckoning of Minnesota officials.

I don’t have a solution for this problem, but I’m pretty sure that labeling impulsive and hormonal teenagers sexual predators and giving them criminal records that will follow them through their adult years–affecting their abilities to get jobs, enter universities and rent apartments–isn’t the way to go.

For some reason, Americans have never seen sex as simply a natural part of life. (Hester Prynne isn’t the only woman who has been humiliated by that A.) That historical prudery, ironically, has intensified interest in–and consumption of– pornography and other sexually-explicit materials. Anyone who ever raised teenagers understands the attraction of the forbidden. It’s like drinking–French children who are accustomed to wine with dinner are much less enamored of alcohol than the suburban offspring of uptight parents who lock their liquor cabinets and lecture their children about the evils of drink.

We really need to grow up.


  1. Not all technological advances are good for society. Allowing them to seep into our children’s lives, replacing freedom and imagination with twenty-four hour hard wired communication with the world is an abdication of the parental duty to protect the innocence of the young.

    No ten year old needs an I phone!

  2. Kids just can’t be kids any more. I’m 71 and this never happened to me, but it was common when I was a teenager that if you were driving and the police stopped you and discovered that you had been drinking alcohol, they would call your parents and have them retrieve you and then let the parents handle the discipline. There was no push to criminalize those stupid things that your 17 year old brain thought were really great ideas.

  3. We not only need to grow up, we need to grow wise in the education of our children. Is it possible that providing sex education in our schools is as important as civics classes? Look at the recent, and continuing, sex abuse and harassment charges against politicians, celebrities and employers at all levels. The sex is not new; the ability to send those pictures through cyberspace is new. Uptight and anal retentive parents have locked into their minds that sex education in schools will teach their little innocents “how to”; when the goal is to teach them “why not” until they are responsible enough to survive the consequences. Proper sex education could/would have possibly prevented the shame that comes with victims of sexual abuse being kept secret for years, sometimes decades.

    I was an “early bloomer” in the early 1950’s; the belief at that time (including by my own father) was that 12-13 year old girls did not have breasts unless they were having sex which somehow caused them to grow. My best friend’s mother believed if she rubbed her daughter’s chest with camphor and bound her tightly, she would not produce them. Instead, it seem to work in reverse and stimulated a great deal of growth. I married near the end of my senior year in high school; the teacher of a health class invited a nurse to speak on reproduction. At the end of the speech, being newly married and uneducated at home, I asked when is the highest chance of becoming pregnant. The teacher stepped forward to announce, “We will have no dirty questions.” The embarrassment ended all questions from the class.

    Has the mind set of parents and educators changed much since then? With children beginning to use camera phones at a very early age and inundated with sex on TV and in movies; pushing the limits, do they not understand the lack of self respect and respect for others they show with these pics – which too often are sent on to unintended recipients? Or have they accepted sex as an UNatural part of life so that it has lost all meaning.

    I am going to return to my favorite quote from Edith Bunker on “All In The Family” when Gloria was explaining menopause to her. “When I was a young girl I didn’t know everything ever young girl should know. Now I’m an old lady and I don’t know everything every old lady should know.” Sex education; like civics, reading and writing, science, math, geography and riding a bicycle, must be taught and includes much, much more than the act of sex alone. Sex may be a natural part of life but it is a vital part of life because it CREATES life and requires understanding of the heavy responsibility which comes with it. Any statistics available on the number of teen pregnancies? Birth control was introduced and encouraged for a brief time then quickly covered up and is now denied by law in some areas by religious beliefs of some with too much power – does Hobby Lobby ring a bell?

    “I don’t have a solution for this problem, but I’m pretty sure that labeling impulsive and hormonal teenagers sexual predators and giving them criminal records that will follow them through their adult years–affecting their abilities to get jobs, enter universities and rent apartments–isn’t the way to go.”

    How sad the above quote from Sheila is; proving the old adage, “A little knowledge is a dangerous weapon.” The lack of sexual knowledge becomes a weapon against them for a lifetime.

  4. Dear Ms. Kennedy,
    For all the touting of ‘Liberal State’ – Minnesota is one of the most tight-assed conservative states in the nation. This of course due to the heavy German, Swedish, Finnish and other traditions – it can be plainly seen in the example of the Twin Cities – MPLS is more Luthern, etc., and St. Paul – well the Basilica says everything. Two different worlds completely – But Minnesota is also known for something else that is always shut away from most eyes – it is home to a large population of BIGOTS and NAZI’s – (real – NAZI’s.) But in this case it is the small brain run by religious bullshit that is pulling all strings behind the scenes in this state. I do think people need to GROW UP. But given the situation we are in right now in Washington.., and in our States; I don’t have much hope for ‘more reasoned thinking’ taking hold. Minnesota in many ways – has its head up its own ass.

  5. grow up, seems like we ignore that kids have sex too,masturbation,petting, not forced,not corerced,they get on the net and see what every adult sees. and this was long before the net. sure we have a problem with those who dont see it as by pass play,but reality is, its everywhere. if you dont want your kids to see this,then by all means,dont give them the tools,or,,have a very open conversation with the whole family,in reality,in a low key atmosphere. no,pressure,sit and actully discuss all aspects. blue faces included. i grew up in a major city, and if your not learning everyday,your not in reality. we all have our opinions. minnesota is a plains state by far,like other
    central plains states,they link often as bible belters in alot of aspects. what family values become are inbedded,like a habit. little outside conversation,and little reality beyond their level of reality,( yes,i live here). if we punish kids for sexting with crimainal prosicution,we only show how low we are a society to even kill a kids chance of living the American dream. but then again,trump and his fellow republicans enjoy shooting someone first,then asking who done it. of course hes the one to profess such a clean lifestyle. but,though as i use this as a what it is, its never going to change. never chastise a child,never lay some stigma on them about them. and never stop the conversation,and always,give a hug,and a thank you for them being the reflection of yourself. reality rules…

  6. Sex, nudity, bodily functions in primitive societies are not hidden behind a cloak of religion. To my mind this is a much healthier approach. Religious prudery is the problem not youthful sexuality.

  7. I agree completely with Geraldine. The prudery comes from the bizarre interpretations of “that old time religion” that deny the most basic behavior of any living thing: sex. This “prudery” is totally backward, but plays into the hands of those who want to control other human beings.

    Sexual predation is a direct result of suppression of these basic “instincts”, for the most part. As Dr. Kennedy suggests, we are doing it to ourselves…so to speak.

  8. I was in a “conversation” on Facebook and was getting lectured about all that’s wrong with “progressives” and prominent on the long list was pretty much all sex possibilities except as performed by missionaries. I or we had apparently spent our lives selling everything else to rubes of weak moral character.

    Of course that led naturally to “rapture” when evangelists get big time help in establishing complete dictatorial power over everyone else. I think that this “discussion” was an invitation to me personally to beat the rush and give in to their power ahead of the curve. I declined.

    However it did help me understand Trumpsville. He and Pence and their minions (all Republicans) are apparently advance men offering “the cure” for 3 easy payments.

    All in all the experience for me was a fountain of despair at how far away from real presumably good Americans have been led by their entertainment choices co-opted by the politics of money.

    Now I go around saying “God help us”.

  9. Vernon; I agree with Geraldine but not completely. Watch for the Liquid Plummr ad which begins by showing 4-5 women’s upper butt cracks before getting to a clogged drain and using the product.

  10. My solution is to teach children about the dangers and consequences of sexting. I am not sure at what minimum age this should be taught, but they need to be aware of potential life altering punishment that could happen to them. Just because they are impulsive does not mean that they should not be made aware of the consequences.

    I think this should be taught by both the parents at home and administration at their schools. It doesn’t have to be an entire class at school, but a short convocation about it could do the trick. Then, if a minor chooses to engage in sexting they at least know the risks.

  11. People of my teenage era maybe forgetting the Polaroid camera. Yes, kids got it and yes, it happened.

  12. Nathaniel Hawthorne is dead but his Puritan environment is alive and well in certain circles, mostly under the banner of religious claims, even though the bible has several examples of sexual excesses, Abraham through David and beyond. Whoever the designer, if any, it is clear that sex exists primarily for the purpose of procreation but that its practice is left to the mores and folkways of the day. I am a firm believer in sex education in the schools just as I am for the teaching of other realities that we confront, such as the need to teach reading, writing and arithmetic if we are to function as contributing members of society. The fact that sex may involve sensitive descriptions of its practice is no excuse to hide needful information about its history and potential consequences of its practice, areas in need of education of students who may not be otherwise educated at home and who don’t know what to do with their hormonal impulses.

    As a personal example, I once took a five-semester hour course in Human Anatomy and Physiology as an elective to a degree in economics and was informed at the first lecture by fellow students (all male at the time) that this was a tough flunk-out course for med and dent school. I did not drop the course and passed, learning much about human bodies in the process , having had no sex education in high school. Such general education of the human bodies proved helpful later in personal injury cases where testifying doctors for my opponents tried to snow me from the stand with jargon they thought was known only to their profession, so taking the course was economically meaningful to me quite aside from the exposure to the more glamorous facets of love-making and its consequences. Economists call such an experience an “externality.” I call it a welcome if unintended consequence of, among other things, exposure to sexual reality. Worked for me.

  13. Not at all on subject, I must conclude that the only thing that explains the actions of the GOP in congress is not the defense of Trump, but rather the solicitation of help from Russia in the 2018 election.

  14. I’ve seen teenage boys with connvictions for child port that had nude images girls sent them on their phone. This malarkey undermines the validity of sex offender registries

  15. you might look at REASON magazine (or web site) which has had a series of articles on “child sex offenders” and the weird problems that resulted. Also resulted were extra funding and fees to the government agencies involved, and of course supervising and monitoring a young female who had sex with her slightly younger boyfriend is rarely dangerous or difficult, but it brings in cash and makes it look like you are “working hard”. When they say “it’s not the money, it’s the principle”, often that means it IS the money. So many people cast an uncritical eye on “sex offender registries”, civil seizure, (an unrelated matter) or other government actions. One very good result of Mr. Trump being President is that people who slumbered during previous administrations are now examining actions they never cared about before. President Trump, making America great again by involving the citizenry.!!

  16. Republicans are certainly involving the donor class. I certainly don’t feel more involved. The people polled by Presidential approval poles apparently don’t either.

  17. Americans need to grow up, indeed. Our teen pregnancy rates are higher than Europe probably because they teach science, reproduction and sex education. We’re falling so far behind that we are not leaders anymore. This didn’t start with #45, but from these puritanical hypocrites all over the country.

  18. This is a problem not entirely of children’s making. Back before digital cameras, every (film) picture at every film developer was looked at by employees & the obscene ones weren’t printed. My friend Ken tried twice, and while they let the PG- and R-rated ones through, he got the negatives but not the prints for the “dirty” ones. I think you had to send away for those from the back of a magazine, but I didn’t want to know & didn’t ask.

    Fast forward 30 years, and social media companies who have fully operational facial-recognition software claim that there’s no way they can screen out sexting. Nonsense. It’s pretty difficult to tell one face from another (at least with a computer), but human privates are pretty distinctive looking – and you don’t have to identify them either, you just have to identify that they’re naughty bits. Make FB & twitter & snapchat responsible for content & you can be sure a screening system will be up & running in months. Why the media believes a word these companies say is beyond me. They have a long history of lying & coverups.

  19. Maybe teens would have more respect for consequences if Dr. Spock had not taught their parents, and parents and educators had not bought his fantasy, that children must be protected from consequences throughout their maturing process.

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