When Being a Teenager is Against the Law

Okay, my headline's an exaggeration. But here's a few news items that make me wonder how we got to a place where teen-aged behavior is dealt with so punitively: 

  • Recently, we linked to a Join Together story about a middle-schooler strip-searched at school for prescription Ibuprofen. Were school officials right to be concerned about teen use of prescription drugs? Absolutely. But strip-searching a female student for Ibuprofen? 
  • Maybe you've heard about "sexting," the act of sending nude or sexually explicit pictures via cell phone. Unsurprisingly, teens are sexting. In Pennsylvania, three teen girls were being threatened with child pornography charges if they did not attend a "five-week behavior course" and (for no apparent reason) take a drug test. (A federal judge ruled that they need not attend the classes, after the ACLU sued.) I don't think sexting is a good idea, and I think teens should be taught that it can lead to exploitation, embarrassment, and long-term consequences if their nude pictures end up on the internet. But do they really need to be prosecuted for it when they send a photo of themselves to another (vs. passing on a photo of someone else without permission) and their motive isn't harrassment? Isn't that tantamount to prosecuting them for being teenagers?

Teens are impulsive risk-takers. They like to experiment; they often make bad choices: that's why being "adolescent" has negative connotations. But we know from brain science that adolescents' inability to foresee consequences is part of their developmental stage: that's the way they're wired. They're going to do boneheaded things. Yes, they need consequences (though sometimes the natural consequences will be more than enough -- such as having your naked body on the world-wide net forever) but let's not send them to court for being teenagers. 
What do you think? 

Updated: February 08 2018