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Teens need to learn caution on the Internet

There is a reason why the Internet was branded the World Wide Web when it first began 20 years ago. Computer scientists and enthusiasts knew early on that what went into the computer could be seen worldwide.

A generation that grew up online is way too trusting. Teenagers may be savvier than adults in the ins and outs of texting and the like, but they are naive about the lack of privacy, even in instant messaging.

What goes online can be used against a person, particularly if it is an immodest picture. Sexting is dangerous. People will see sooner or later.

It has become such a problem among young people that Mark Plants, Kanawha County's prosecuting attorney, wants a law that would make it illegal for teens to send nude pictures of themselves to other teens, or for the recipients to send them elsewhere. Even creation of such an image would be illegal.

Charges would be handled in juvenile court, and the judge could send a teen to a juvenile facility for up to a year.    

This is serious business, and law enforcement should use such a tool as a last resort. But surely most parents and guardians can sympathize with the frustration.

It begins with young lovers sending pictures of one another.

"Well, then there's a breakup, and all of a sudden those inappropriate pictures are on Facebook or they're being passed around the schools," Plants told the Daily Mail's Dave Boucher.

"It's a new form of bullying in the tech age."

Child pornography laws cover adults sending pictures of underage people or nude pictures to minors. But the law does not cover minors exchanging such photos.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, is backing a proposal that would plug that hole in the law.

But neither Palumbo nor Plants envisions actually sending a teenager away for sexting. They simply want the practice to end.

So why change the law?

Before the state changes the law, the state should try a little education. Not in the classroom, because teachers already have enough on their plates, but through public service announcements and the like.



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