Wednesday, January 25, 2012

House nearly criminalizes teenagers' poor judgment

What do you say?

There comes a point in a young person's life when their freedoms and autonomy outpace their capacity to think and act rationally. Some call it their twenties. Most scientists and medical practitioners call it puberty. And science has reached some data-driven conclusion about this phenomenon.

Yes, science is hard, but this isn't very long:

In calm situations, teenagers can rationalize almost as well as adults. But stress can hijack what Ron Dahl, a pediatrician and child psychiatric researcher at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center calls "hot cognition" and decision-making. The frontal lobes help put the brakes on a desire for thrills and taking risk -- a building block of adolescence; but, they're also one of the last areas of the brain to develop fully.

Luckily, this period only lasts several years, and we call it being a "teenager." And in most cases, the teenagers don't screw up so badly; some of them even get into college.

A few of them, though, exercise poor judgment. In ye olden days, that might have meant cow-tipping, or toilet-papering the neighbor's house. Today, thanks to the ubiquity of cheap and instant technology, it might include taking and sending impertinent photographs of one, or one's friends or acquaintances, to others.

And that's what took up time in House committee this week.

Nearly 10 percent unemployment in the state, yet a House committee warmed the air over pictures that teenagers take and send to others using the cellphones their parents have given them.

Talk about "hot cognition."

A SC House of Representatives committee effectively killed a bill Tuesday aimed at deterring underage “sexting.”

State Rep. Joan Brady, R-Richland, sponsored the legislation to fine minors who forward emails, texts and other electronic communication that includes sexually explicit photos of minors.

Members of the House Judiciary Committee generally supported the idea but could not figure out a way around unintended consequences, including the possibility that police could seize minors’ cell phones without parental consent and use the contents as evidence.

Mm. That's not all of the unintended consequences one can imagine. What happens when a lawmaker's own son or daughter takes and sends such photos?

Sometimes it's best to leave parenting to parents.

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