Social Media, the Internet and Teens Today

Posted by Keith Hall | Dec 07, 2015 | 0 Comments

I think I can speak for all of the teenagers, at least the ones I grew up with, and admit that we all committed crimes as part of that stage of growing to become responsible adults. Teenagers push their boundaries their parents, peers, teachers, and the law.  Hollywood films romanticize the underage parties, drug consumption, skipping of school, and joyriding in cars.  In fact some of the stories my friends and I still talk about ,when we get together as forty-something year old men, are the times we did something stupid and illegal in our teens and twenties and lived to tell about it.  I often am thankful that when I grew up we didn't have cell phones, the internet, or social media like Facebook or Instagram.  If we got in trouble we didn't make videos of it on our cell phones, and there was no internet to post them on.  

Kids growing up today have instant access to the internet, a powerful worldwide publishing medium that never existed when I was their age.  A cell phone video from a party can instantly be viewed by the whole school, or the whole world.  A fist fight gets loaded to a website before the involved kids even walk home.  A teenage boy threatens someone on social media, like teenagers always did in the schools.  In my criminal defense practice I see these issues come up regularly with kids of this generation.  This is not something I only see in criminal defense, but something I see in the media as well.  

In Shingle Springs, California in October some teenagers recently made a sex tape click here for news coverage.  One teenager filmed it while the other two participated in it, they now face criminal charges of disseminating child porn, sexually exploiting a child, and conspiracy to commit a crime.  They also face sex offender registration, along with other mandatory criminal consequences. This is obviously a more serious crime, versus some others that could result from filming bad teenage behavior; but should children who are just emulating the behavior they see in adults be charged so harshly?  I certainly don't think so.  

Kids growing up today have instant access to pornography, via the internet, and they regularly see adults having sex on film.  Kids learn to become adults by emulating adult behavior, so it stands to reason that teenagers who are sexually active will also end up emulating the behavior that they see in the adult entertainment by filming their behavior.  This is why this kind of thing occurs.  Unfortunately the law has not caught up with reality, and the statutes that regulate criminal behavior do not necessarily take into account the new reality of growing up as a kid today.  

There is some hope that kids in these situations will not end up having their lives ruined by the criminal justice system.  I work with many reasonable prosecutors, people who grew up doing dumb things just I did, or at least understand them.  A reasonable prosecutor has a great degree of latitude to charge criminal behavior with either serious or minor consequences.  Fortunately this discretion is often wielded in a reasonable manner, and reasonable results are the outcome. A young man or woman might need to be taught a lesson, but their future should not be ruined for a youthful indiscretion.  

Unfortunately there are also unreasonable prosecutors. The nature of the business is that there are a wide range of personalities in the field of prosecution.  There are some that see only black or white, and believe that someone who commits a crime should be held fully accountable to the law, as the statute reads.  These types or prosecutors are extremely difficult to deal with, as they truly believe that they are doing the right thing, even when all logic says they are wrong.  

I think the answer is to change the law to allow for decreased penalties for young people that commit crimes.  We already have a separate juvenile criminal justice system, but I think we need to go further.  We need to decrease the seriousness levels for juvenile offenses. So that someone who is convicted of a sex crime as a youth will not have a felony record or have to register as a sex offender.  I also think that we need to raise the age where we allow juvenile prosecutions, or at least allow those who commit crimes as juveniles to be prosecuted in the juvenile system.  I see injustices, such as adults who are prosecuted years later in adult court, for crimes that they committed as juveniles.  

Social media, the internet, and their ability to quickly publish the daily details of our lives have changed the world.  For better or for worse, this change is here to stay.  

About the Author

Keith Hall

Keith is our firm's lead criminal defense attorney.

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