Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Tough to be a Teen

Childhood has never been easy and parents always face complex tasks.  For most of history, it was important for families to produce as many children as possible in order to have an adequate labor pool.  Early years were rarely some sort of innocent time of play and joy, but were preparation to begin to work along adults as soon as possible. Children brought in the crops, cared for the animals, worked in sweatshops or did whatever else deemed necessary for survival of the family unit.

Even with a less agrarian world and lowered need for large families, childhood today looks like a minefield for many. Young girls in impoverished families are often married off early or sold into sex slavery.  Young men are forcibly conscripted into military service or find themselves with no options for employment and thus are consigned to lives on the margins of economic survival. In countries where a large percentage of adults have been afflicted with HIV, children are rearing their own younger brothers and sisters, and in conditions horrific to the pampered American eye.

That very pampering has led to a growing danger for our own more sophisticated and comfortable teens: an electronic world and record where there is no such thing as forgotten history, and where reputations can be shattered in an instant and never rebuilt.  Today's teens engage a world where one typical "pushing the boundaries" mistake can haunt them forever. The digital world never, ever forgets or forgives.  

The youth of my generation secretly read "adult-content" magazines by flashlights under the covers. The youth of this generation snap compromising photos of themselves or others and merrily send them to friends or post them on social networking sites.  What could be a fairly innocent exploration of their emerging sexuality--and if you think they don't explore it, you are living in a different world than I--can now blow up into a life-long albatross.  

One possible scenario:  an underage teen snaps a photo of his or her partially undressed body in a way that exposes private parts, sends it to a boyfriend or girlfriend (current terminology: "sexting") who is then, like it or not, in possession of child pornography.  That youth then sends it on to other friends, so he or she is not just in possession of it, but has become a distributor of it.  An adult:  parent, teacher, or pastor perhaps, receives it, and that person now also potentially faces being charged with possession of child pornography.  All in this scenario can be prosecuted and judged guilty of a felony offense. Should that happen, they have to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives, along facing with the possibility of prison time and all the other serious and endless ramifications of felony convictions.  AND, such photos exist in cyberspace forever. They may unexpectedly appear at inopportune times such as the journey to higher education, employment applications, housing decisions or anything else that might necessitate some sort of electronic search of a person's life and background.

Parents, engage in the sacred task of child-rearing with seriousness here. When you provide a cell phone for your offspring, you own that phone.  Contact your phone service provider immediately and arrange to monitor their text (and sext) messages.  You owe your children that protection.  When you make computers available to them, you own those computers.  Do not permit them to use them where they can work unmonitored by you.  Know their passwords to their email accounts and social networking sites and check those sites frequently.  Youth deserve that protection, however much they might argue with you about it.  Remember: teen brains are still developing. Impulse control almost doesn't exist and won't develop well for some years yet.  Be courageous.  Step up here.  This is serious.

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