An undetermined amount of students in a Colorado high school were implicated in the exchanging of nude photographs. The latest scandal has resulted in a police felony investigation at Cañon City High School. The act of exchanging and sharing nude photographs — or sexting — is a significant problem on many high school campuses. Another recent case of sexting has resulted in the suspension of 20 Long Island students. The rise of social media has undoubtedly aided in students being able to save and share these photos in more secretive ways. The students at the Colorado high school were using a photo vault app that hides images. The development of technology and its impact on sexting raise the question — how can we teach adolescents to drop the “I can get away with anything” mentality? There must be personal accountability expected from the students who knowingly distributed and saved compromising photos of their peers. While many educators preach about the legal repercussions of sharing these photos, there needs to be stronger push to educate students on why these actions will not be tolerated, rather than immediately seeking legal action against these students,

According to CNN, the photo vault app that the students used was described by the Colorado school’s Superintendent George Welsh as “a little bit like Snapchat,” in the sense that a person can choose whether or not a photo remains on the device. The app itself is designed to appear like a calculator or media player, which only aids in students’ belief that they were successfully circumventing any consequences for their actions.

However, although these students knew that they were wrong because they were purposefully hiding the photos using the photo vault app, there is more to the issue than placing the blame on their wrongdoings and ending it there. The main issue that most young people have is that they think they are “immortal” and that they will not get caught for their actions. The Washington Post acknowledges that citing “peer pressure and willfulness” are easy ways to ignore the real problem — teenagers are more likely to take risks because their prefrontal cortexes, which influence judgment and moderate social behavior, are not yet fully developed. In fact, according to The National Center for Biotechnology Information, studies have shown that “the adolescent brain continues to mature well into the 20s.” The knowledge that neuroscientists have of when the brain fully finishes developing should change how we discuss matters of decision-making with adolescents.

The reality is that we, as people in our late teens and early 20s, are more likely to make decisions based on our emotions, rather than through reasoning and thinking. Here at Fairfield, I read comments that students post on Yik Yak, boasting about something that they managed to do over the weekend that was risky. One recent comment that I read on Yik Yak was “Just took a shot of fireball before class…u can say ready for the weekend.” Whether these activities involve getting away with underage drinking or something even more threatening such as students driving under the influence, I believe that parents, guardians and educators here at Fairfield and around the country must educate young people that their “immortality” is a facade. One way that educators can raise awareness is by having students who have experienced consequences from behaving recklessly come and speak to them about how poorly thought out decisions can impact a person’s life.

According to CNN, Cañon City High School stated, “Charges could amount to a Class 3 felony if students took ‘a picture of themselves showing a naked private body part and sent it to another person, … received such a picture and forwarded it to another person, or … received such a picture and retained possession of it over time.’” Clearly, the legal repercussions are frightening. Treated like child pornography, the act, in many cases more the result of an incomplete development of the prefrontal cortex than an intentional criminal act, can result in life-altering complications, from jail time to becoming labeled a life-long registered sex offender. We cannot fully dismiss the students’ actions, but rather than immediately label them as predators, I think that there should be mandated therapy instead. I believe that most young people do not realize why their actions are wrong, and punishing them does not teach them that it is wrong. Our legal system has not evolved at the same rate as technology, often opting to prosecute, rather than seek solutions that utilize education. I hope that educators understand that utilizing these two services in tandem will be more effective than simply suspending students for a certain period of time.

Additionally, these services should be put to use early, otherwise adolescents will continue to think that spreading these photos is acceptable. The mentality will not only be harmful when they are young, but will perpetuate as they get older and become independent. A recent instance that occurred on our campus last year was when an account called fairfielduxxx posted explicit photographs of females on the “My Story” feature. The account has since been deleted, but gained attention by being promoted by students on Yik Yak. Additionally, according to The Mirror’s coverage of the situation on Storify, it was determined that the “best photo” would receive a cash prize of $100. At the time, I was unaware of this happening on campus, but it does not surprise me. Adolescents who are not educated that their actions are wrong will become young adults who are unaware of the same reality. It boils down to the fact that without proper education and additional therapy after the situation requires it, there is no way to prevent the continuation of the behavior.

Child pornography is a heinous crime, and there must be vigilance when dealing with any form of nudity regarding children. The line blurs in cases of consensual sexting between teens, a confluence of technology and immature impulse. Some researchers, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, have even gone as far as to label sexting as the “modern first base.” It is modern, risky behavior that must be addressed through parenting and education. While perhaps impossible to completely prevent from occurring, much like underage drinking, increased education must be implemented to try and lessen the incidences.

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