The Government's War on Teenagers
Today’s teenage culture is a product of mass society, compulsory schooling, and the government dominance of education.
March 30, 2009
Fred Foldvary, Ph.D.
Economist

It is said by physiologists that the human brains are not fully developed until the child has become an adult. Teenagers do not have full cognitive powers, which is a good reason to keep them minors, without the full right of self-determination that adults have. Also, teenagers have not had sufficient life experience to enable them to make sound judgments. They can be easily swayed by impulsive emotions and giddy feelings. Teenagers need to be seasoned by sadness and hard times in order to gain perspective.

The “teenager” is an artificial construct of modern society. In ancient times, there were no teenagers. A boy of age 13 would be initiated into manhood. He would become apprenticed to learn a trade, or he would become a worker on the farm. When they were able to have children, girls would be initiated into womanhood and get married. They would not go on dates and to teenage drinking parties. The parents or matchmakers would select their mates, and their sexual drives would be satisfied in marriage. Having children would make the young parents responsible adults. The community would be the village, not the teenage party.

Today’s teenage culture is a product of mass society, compulsory schooling, and the government dominance of education. Put a mass of teenagers together, and we get trouble, folks. We get youth gangs. Force them to sit silently in rows in a dull classroom, and we get drug abuse. Tell them not to have sex, while they can’t stop thinking about it, and we get teen pregnancies.

There are good things, too, in teenage culture. We get rock and roll, dancing, and science projects. But good times can get wild, because of teenage mass psychology. Human beings are genetically programmed to use tools, and children instinctively love to use ever better tools. The human mind is also programmed to seek communication. The combination of communication and technology has irresistible power. That is why teenagers are constantly sending one another texts, photos, and videos.

Another human instinct is to seek sensation. The young especially have energy, and they seek excitement, especially after sitting in rows in a classroom doing dreary drills for the next standardized test. Afterwards, you just want to get out and scream. Since teenage brains are still not fully developed, and since they seek sensation, and have their camera phones, and want to do something wild and cool, they take naked pictures of themselves and send them to their friends. They post them in the social web sites of the Internet.

The instinct of government official is to maximize power. Government officials respond to teenage foolishness by coming down with the heavy hammer of the state. District attorneys are prosecuting teenagers for producing, distributing, and viewing child pornography when the pictures they send depict mere nudity. School officials have been working with district attorneys by confiscating students’ cell phones. Government chiefs and school administrators claim that mere nakedness is inherently pornographic. If that is so, that would also apply to nude adults. By that standard, any nude photograph or painting would constitute pornography.

Catholic churches usually have statues and pictures of cherubs, chubby naked babies or young children with angel wings. As interpreted by today’s law enforcement, all these cherubs are child pornography, and the clergy should be put in prison for life for showing them.

Government officials are branding 14-year old children who take nude pictures of themselves as sex offenders. This is contrary to previous laws that made a clear distinction between mere nudity and sex. Sex is an activity, a behavior, whereas the unclothed body is not behavior, but a state of being.

Government chiefs call the sending of electronic nude pictures “sexting,” from “texting,” sending text messages. But if the subject is merely nude, “sexting” is misnamed. They should call it “textnuding.” By calling it “sexting,” government chiefs are able to make it a sexual crime.

District attorneys are now being sued by students, parents, and the ACLU, for charging teenagers with child pornography. All of this legal action will clog the courts and divert law enforcement from concentrating on the real dangers of criminal gangs that are terrorizing neighborhoods and invading homes.

If convicted, the teenager not only can be punished with prison for many years, but also becomes branded as a sex offender for life. They have to register with the state and be subject to the restrictions under Megan’s Law, including restrictions on where they can live. Surveys have found that about a fifth of teenagers have sent nude photos of themselves, which would make twenty percent of the future population sex offenders according to current legal practice.

Of course teenagers need to be educated to avoid such foolish acts. After their silly photo is in the Internet, they may never be able to get a good job or enter a good school. But the way to educate teenagers is not by criminal prosecution. That will just bring rebellion. If criminal prosecution prevented foolishness, teenagers would not be getting drunk or taking bad drugs. Nude-picture prohibition will be no more effective than alcohol and marijuana prohibition.

Government’s clumsy and cruel response to textnuding will clog the legal system and create far worse problems than the teenage foolishness. Government chiefs are not just cruel, but more foolish than the silly teenagers. However, the district attorneys will not be able to resist their drive to exert power, since government picks up the tab when district attorneys get sued.

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Fred Foldvary, Ph.D.
Economist

FRED E. FOLDVARY, Ph.D., is an economist and has been writing weekly editorials for Progress.org since 1997. Foldvary's commentaries are well respected for their currency, sound logic, wit, and consistent devotion to human freedom. He received his B.A. in economics from the University of California at Berkeley, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University. He has taught economics at Virginia Tech, John F. Kennedy University, Santa Clara University, and currently teaches at San Jose State University.

Foldvary is the author of The Soul of LibertyPublic Goods and Private Communities, and Dictionary of Free Market Economics. He edited and contributed to Beyond Neoclassical Economics and, with Dan Klein, The Half-Life of Policy Rationales. Foldvary's areas of research include public finance, governance, ethical philosophy, and land economics.

Foldvary is notably known for going on record in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology in 1997 to predict the exact timing of the 2008 economic depression—eleven years before the event occurred. He was able to do so due to his extensive knowledge of the real-estate cycle.