When it comes to the case of ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner sending images of his private parts over the Internet, parenting blogs seem about equally divided over whether this represents a parent's "teachable moment."
Some say this is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate to kids that once you send a photo, you can never get it back, and just how easy it is for an inappropriate tweet or Facebook post to come back and haunt you.
Others -- myself included -- can think of better examples to use than Representative Weiner. I would find it deeply depressing to say to my 12-year-old daughter: "Look, you know all that stuff I've been telling you never to do because it could ruin your life? Well, it turns out that elected officials four times your age are doing it."
"What's your point, mom?"
"Err...I don't know.."
However, there is a far more serious issue here, and one that has been picked up by more than a few legal commentators. It's the fact that despite ruining his career and seriously threatening his marriage, ex-Congressman Weiner has not done anything illegal and will not be prosecuted for any offense.
Contrast that with the case of teenager Phillip Alpert of Orlando, FL. At 3:28 in the morning after an argument with his 16-year-old girlfriend, Phillip, who had just turned 18, sent a semi-nude image of the girl to her cell phone contact list.
Her parents reported his actions to the police and Alpert was arrested on 72 counts, including possession and distribution of child pornography. He was kicked out of school and, after pleading guilty, was placed on probation for three years. Worst of all, he was placed on Florida's sex offenders list, where he will remain until he's 43.
Two cases of foolish sexting -- the adult does nothing illegal, while the teen is a sex offender.
Now, I am not defending Alpert -- and I am sure I would put a different spin on the case if I was the girl's mother -- but don't we have things backwards here? This may be the only area of the law where we treat kids more harshly than we do adults, even when the adults don't have the excuse of being young and immature.
Thankfully, some states are starting to see the light on teen sexting cases. Earlier this year, the Florida legislature passed a bill that will decriminalize the first sexting offense by a minor and instead make it punishable by up to 8 hours of community service and a $60 fine. The second incident would be a misdemeanor.
We definitely need to be vigilant with our kids when it comes to sexting; whether it's a crime or not, it can still ruin young lives. But it serves no useful purpose for adults to take out the big stick for foolish youthful indiscretions, particularly if it's a big stick we would never use on ourselves.
And if you'd like to prevent your teen from sexting start by discussing sexuality and making sure she can come to you with anything that makes her uncomfortable.
The best thing you can do with your child is to help her feel connected to you, her parent.
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