Face it. A lot of us did it as teenagers back in the days when Polaroids were the quick way to get a photo that you couldn’t get developed by Kodak and sent back to the local drug store. You know the ones I’m talking about: a girlfriend flashing a little bit more skin than you’d see otherwise and maybe even more than they show in Playboy.  You would both look at it, laugh a little and then she’d tear it up.

Ah, the uninhibited nature of youth.  In 1972, I took a photo of a young lady attending a rock concert at the Mississippi River Festival on the campus of Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville near St. Louis.  She wore granny glasses, pookah beads — and nothing else. Her full-frontal nude photo ran in an alternative weekly in St. Louis and the city tried to block distribution of the free newspaper from vending machines on city streets.

A couple of years ago, the retired editor of the paper emailed me to say he had heard from the girl, now a grandmother living near St. Louis. Seems her grandson found the photo in a scrap book and walked into the kitchen holding the scrapbook and asking “grandma?”

Nowdays, with cell phones and digital cameras, embarrassing photos turn up as often as yearbook photos.  A Floyd County High School student a few weeks ago proudly displayed a cell phone with a photo of an FCHS cheerleader without her uniform — or any other stitch of clothing.

He smiled and asked:  “Want a copy?”

“Hell no,” I replied. “And if I were you I’d erase that copy.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s child photography.”

“That’s OK,” he claimed. “I’m not 18.

Neither was she. And that’s just part of the problem.

Consider this story from Valpraiso, Indiana:

Two Ben Franklin Middle School students who Valparaiso police said were caught using their cell phones to exchange nude pictures of each other — a practice called sexual texting or “sexting” — are facing criminal charges.

A 13-year-old Valparaiso girl and a 12-year-old Valparaiso boy were referred to juvenile probation on charges of possession of child pornography and child exploitation. In adult court, the charges would carry a maximum penalty of 11 years in prison, but prosecutors expect the case to be handled in the juvenile system.

“Something needs to be done, but we think dealing with them through the juvenile court system is appropriate, so as not to saddle them with (consequences) from the adult system,” Porter County Prosecutor Brian Gensel said.

In the adult system, convicted offenders face not only prison time but also having to register as a sex offender.

The case against the Valparaiso students came to light when the girl’s phone went off during class Jan. 21 and the teacher confiscated it. The teacher told police the girl asked to delete something from the phone before it was turned over to the administration, but that request was denied.

The teacher said the girl began crying, saying she would get in trouble because the boy had sent her a dirty picture.

An investigation revealed the boy sent the girl an explicit photo of himself Jan. 17 and asked her to use her cellular phone to send back a similar picture of herself, which she did, police said. Police further found out the girl showed the picture of the boy to one of her friends.

Deputy Prosecutor Cheryl Polarek said young people don’t understand the ramifications of texting nude pictures or posting certain material on social networking sites like Facebook. She said a nude picture could end up being shared with half the school and could get in the hands of people who seek out child pornography.

Even though it is illegal to send or possess nude pictures of someone younger than 18, a national survey found 20 percent of teens have texted or posted online nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves.

Gensel, who belongs to the National District Attorneys Association, said the association’s trade publication featured a column on sexting that highlighted Montgomery County, Ohio, Prosecutor Mathias Heck Jr.’s implementation of a “diversion program” for sexting cases.

Young people who enter the diversion program undergo education on appropriate sexual boundaries and related topics, complete community service and relinquish their cell phone for a period of time. If the program is successfully completed, the charges are dismissed or never filed.

Gensel agrees with Heck that there needs to be some “tempering” of prosecution so some foolish, consenting behavior doesn’t have long-term ramifications on young people’s lives. Gensel favors a system in which young people receive an explanation about how serious of a matter sexual texting is, and that there will be serious consequences if they continue doing it.

Valparaiso police Sgt. Michael Grennes said this case shows the need for parents to educate their children about what they can and can’t do with their cellular phones or on their computers. He also recommends parents to follow through by monitoring their children’s phone and computer use. He also said parents might want to consider whether their child really needs to own a phone.

In the last several months, I’ve been shown cell phone photos of female Floyd County High School students wearing little or no clothes. In every case, I’ve told the owner of the cell phone to erase the photos immediately.

Sometime, 20 years from now, a copy of those photo could show up on the Internet to be found by her, son, daughter or husband.

Many kids, and too many adults, do stupid things.  The smart ones get read of the evidence.

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