by SimonÃ© Streck
The number of registered juvenile sex offenders is on the rise, particularly in the case of boys, and, in what seems to be a disturbing turn of events, the laws designed to protect children are causing more trouble than they are worth. While it seems obvious that young boys guilty of sexual violence against others should be punished, the long arm of the law is reaching out to scratch an invisible itch reaching much further than these crimes.
There appears to be a noticeable trend in the number of overzealous prosecutors who are ready to register almost any sexually curious young boy as a juvenile sex offender. In many cases they claim to be "teaching the children a lesson," but is this really true? Once a young boy is forced to register as a juvenile sex offender it remains on their record for the rest of his life. Even when the charges are dropped, a boy's life will never be the same. He will forever be labeled as "sexually aggressive." Quite naturally, there is some doubt as to whether this form of punishment offers any type of solution. Instead of fostering an environment in which lessons are learned and mistakes are rectified, the legal system is creating even bigger problems for these boys and their families.
Most people are in agreement about conviction and punishment for sexually violent acts such as rape. However, we are left to wonder why a 10 year old, diagnosed as mentally retarded, receives the same treatment for rubbing up against an 8 year old girl. The latter case refers to 16 year old J.G. of New Jersey who is being charged with a juvenile sex offense for the so-called "crime" he committed when he was 10 years of age. His actions were wrong but is it really fair to call it a "sexually criminal act"? A lengthy article on the Citizens for Change, America website offers a detailed expose of the story. Both the young boy and girl were found in their underwear and there was no evidence of penetration. According to the report, J.G. referred to his actions as "kissing."
On the same website an even more shocking media scandal is laid out for the world to see. A 3 year old boy was charged with juvenile sexual misconduct. He was arrested and booked at an age where he is barely able to tell the difference between his knee and his elbow. His crime? Brace yourselves for a truly heinous crime: taking a curious peek under the back of a woman's dress. According to the stringent new juvenile sex offense laws, a tiny tot taking a naughty look at a woman's bottom is as dangerous as a serial rapist. If the toddler is convicted, he will face a lifetime registration as a criminal sex offender. Prosecutors may need to wait a few years until he is old enough to scrawl a signature, but they obviously take their high paying jobs very seriously and are more than willing to wait.
Perhaps a little closer to home for parents would be the news that "sexting" can now be identified as a criminal offense. Hormonal pre- and post-pubescent teens all over the nation have developed the habit of sending nude photographs of themselves to their peers via the internet or even via their cell phones. They think they are being naughty, flirty and adventurous. However, they probably do not know that "sexting" can be now be equated with classified child pornography. Felony obscenity charges are running rampant through high schools and colleges across America. Prosecutors are only too happy to mar the reputations of these juveniles while the media laps it up and turns out horrific front page stories that have these young teens on the border of suicide.
Human sexuality is not a cut and dry topic. In the case of the 3 year old boy and the hormonal teenagers mentioned above, basic curiosity is turned into scandalous sex tales. Prosecutors and media representatives would have us believe they are only looking out for the best interests of the community at large. Unfortunately, it seems more likely is that the sex related cash camel is simply too tempting to resist.
According to Phil Rich of Selfhelpmagazine.com, sexual play and development are natural biological processes in children. Babies and toddlers have a tendency to touch and rub their own genitals, and despite the fact that parents will swat their tiny fingers away there is no denying that this basic curiosity is present from an early age. Children aged 5 to 7 are more curious about how certain body parts function. These young children also begin to form ideas about love and affection, and this behavior continues well past the age of 10. Pre-teens between the ages of 10 and 12 are more concerned with the development of social relationships and generally begin to experience slightly more sexual feelings. Touching and fondling of genitalia happens throughout childhood and after the age of about 13 this develops into more frequent masturbation.
Information regarding a child's sexual development tends to make parents squeamish. This is only natural. Parents often don't want to think of their child in this light, but in the face of the new juvenile sex offender laws there is only one solution. In the words of your children, "Get over it." The advent of technology has brought sex and sexuality further into the open, which is why the "sexting" phenomenon (among others) is so common. Fighting the laws can take years, so the only real solution is to take preventative measures. The only way to protect your children is to be completely open and honest with them.
A parent's job is never done. When your teen's first relationship starts to get into the heavy petting stages, it most definitely is not time to bow out gracefully. This is where things get tricky. As a father, adopting a "boys will be boys" attitude simply is not good enough anymore. Your responsibility is to distinguish between age appropriate sexual behavior and the kind of sexual blooper that could land your son on the Sex Offence Register.
Any form of sexual aggression is a clear cut no-no and psychological evaluation or counseling will need to be sought. For everything else, from kissing to heavy petting to intercourse, your best bet is to warn your child of the consequences. Unfortunately, teen pregnancy and STIs are only the tip of the iceberg. Your child already knows about all of these. What your child might not know is that he could face criminal charges and a lifetime of humiliation, school transfers and job rejection.
The most obvious solution to the problem is abstinence. However, we do not live in a world where our children are soulless automatons. As much as you would like to say it, "You can't have sex until you're married," is probably the worst way to go about setting boundaries. Set proper rules, but if the teen is to respect your judgment then you must be realistic. You were a teenager once too so hypocrisy will not get you very far. Make sure that your child knows to be respectful to their partner, and to be discreet as well. Make sure that your child is aware of the juvenile sex offense laws and the dangers of violating them. In the end it is up to the teen because you simply can't watch them every minute.
In order to successfully combat the way in which these laws are affecting juveniles, parents need to band together. It may seem strange, and you are most certainly going to find yourself in unfamiliar territory but something must be done. When these newspaper reports pop up, offering the families support is something that you can and should do. Imagine for a moment that your son is in on the scandalous front page, would you not want the support of your community?
Unfortunately, there are many "what-ifs" at this stage. There is no guarantee that an innocent child will be able to slide under the prosecutors' radar. As a parent, your only hope is to set aside your discomfort and begin to educate your child at an early age. As a father, you know that young boys often act out on curiosity about forbidden topics. No subject matter should be taboo. Provide your son with the information he needs to stay out of trouble.
copyright (c) 2011, FatherMag.com
About the author:
In her final year of a Bachelor of Arts Degree, majoring in English Literature and Linguistic, SimonÃ© is a young writer armed with strong opinions and a vivid imagination. When her nose is not buried in a book, she is planted firmly behind her keyboard tackling topics ranging from cookery to music reviews and everything in between.