Monday, December 15, 2008

Illegal or Immoral: What's More Important to Teach our Children?

Plain Dealer columnist Connie Schultz wrote in Sundays' newspaper about the frighteningly popular trend of teens taking and distributing naked pictures of themselves. Eight people between the ages of 14 and 16, all students at a suburban Cleveland high school, were distributing naked photos that were originally taken by a young girl who wanted to show her ex-boyfriend "what he was missing."

None of the kids knew that circulating such photos was illegal. Even more surprisingly,none of them seemed to know it was just plain wrong.

Schultz's column encourages parents to talk about the dangers of circulating naked photos because, if caught, they could be labeled sexual predators, a title that will follow them for years into their adulthood.

No parent wants his or her child going to juvenile court and possibly having a horrible moniker attached to his or her name. So how best to keep this from happening: Do you first explain that acts such as distributing nude photos is illegal, or do you start by explaining that such acts are immoral? Do you stress that it would be unfortunate to be labeled a criminal, or is it more important to stress the disrespect they are showing their own body or someone else's?

Here's the difference between my working class, ethnic upbringing and what seems to be going on today: If I had done something as stupid as distribute naked photos of myself to others when I was a teenager and my parents had found out, they would have slapped me upside the head and told me I had disgraced our family name and greatly embarrassed them. Believe me, I grew up believing that embarrassing my parents was far worse punishment than having to appear in juvenile court.

And if I had gotten tossed in JD or been held by the police, my parents would have left me there for a good long time in order to get their point across: What you did was really wrong and we are really, really, really upset. I imagine that it would have been safer for me to have spent a few days in a prison cell than go home and face my parents if I had committed a crime, especially one that involved exposing my naked body to others.

If my father's sisters did something deemed imprudent by the family, my Italian-born grandmother would say to them, "Non you shame-a youself." It was a simple sentence that, translated from broken English, means don't do something that you'll regret or that will cause others to look down on you.

Is there any action out there today that is deemed immoral or embarrassing? Increasingly, our moral code has been shot to hell. If it feels good, do it. Oh, but it could be illegal, so watch out.

Certainly there will be people who will say that if you tell a girl or boy that it's immoral to be nude then you're also telling them they should be ashamed of their bodies. Please note the difference: The human body in and of itself is a beautiful thing, but when someone (especially a young person) exposes the naked body to taunt someone else or to get a few kicks, that is degrading and demeaning.

Yes, we have to teach our children about right and wrong through the eyes of the court, but what about through our own eyes? What do you think about this?

No comments: