It's the golden age of technology gone bad. And it's a wake-up call for parents and educators to redouble their efforts in monitoring all electronic devices in the hands of kids.
Just in the last few weeks, there have been three instances of children -- elementary and middle school age -- using technology to access or disseminate inappropriate pictures.
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The consequences, at least for two middle school kids, could alter their lives forever.
"These students and their parents find themselves in a severe situation," said Barrington Unit District 220 Superintendent Tom Leonard after it was announced that two Barrington Middle School students are facing possession of child pornography charges.
"Their future may be forever stamped by the careless use of an app, the tease of a text message, the unthinking post of an indecent photo."
If these two boys are found delinquent in juvenile court for showing personal photos of a classmate to others, they could be given anywhere from court supervision to 30 days or longer in a juvenile detention center.
In Batavia, a similar case at Rotolo Middle School last week resulted in no criminal charges, but its seriousness is not overlooked, and officials are seeking the right middle ground to help kids better understand the consequences and problems of viewing and sharing inappropriate images.
"We hope that all parents take the opportunity to talk to their children about the permanent nature of things online," said Batavia Superintendent Lisa Hichens.
Added Batavia Detective Kevin Bretz: "(Middle school) kids tend to see not much farther than their nose. If nothing else, we are trying to use this as a learning tool for the parents and the district."
We like that approach, as we did when the Barrington case was first announced. Unfortunately, a teaching moment alone apparently did not deter one of the Barrington boys from showing the pictures again, and that has put school officials in a difficult position.
The option of confronting middle school students with the prospect of criminal charges in a case like this certainly feels extreme -- and suggests we may need to take a deeper look at how and when to bring the criminal justice system into the picture.
In the meantime, we're hopeful the more drastic approach now facing the kids at Barrington will get through to them -- and to any others tempted to do something similar -- before the most drastic punishments are handed down.