The disturbing news coming out of Canon City High School in Colorado is troubling without a doubt, but the school and governmental response may be nearly as bad. For those of you who may have missed the non-stop cable news coverage of the breaking story, officials at the high school have discovered what is being described as a massive sexting ring involving more than one hundred students, some ranging in age down to 12 year olds in middle school. The big questions now are focused on what to do about it and whether any of this constitutes a federal crime. (Yahoo News)

A massive sexting ring is rocking a high school in Colorado, with at least 100 students trading nude pictures and posting them on social media, news reports said.

Some of the kids in the photographs were as young as 12, and included eighth graders from the middle school, The New York Times reported.

The students, many of whom are on the football team at Canon City High School, could now face criminal charges, reports said.

The school district announced Wednesday that “a number of our students have engaged in behavior where they take and pass along pictures of themselves that expose private parts of their bodies or their undergarments.”

So far, the only concrete action being taken has been to cancel the school’s final football game of the year since it seems that the better part of the team will probably be suspended anyway. But the “ring” of illicit activity goes far, far beyond just the locker room of the football squad. Previous efforts to “educate” students about the dangers of sexting seem to have not sunk in very well, at least in this school system. The established fact is that these photos, once uploaded to “the cloud” from a phone, live forever on the web and most of them are probably already being downloaded in mass from sites that traffic in child pornography for pedophiles. Further, surely these teens have been told that if their names are attached to the phone, the pictures will come back to haunt them in their adult years.

And how did the students respond? By installing apps known as “phone vaults” which hide their pictures from the prying eyes of parents or teachers who might get hold of the phone, making them look like some simple calculator app. (There are apparently armies of people out there cooking up phone apps that I’ve never heard of.) They obviously heard the message and knew they weren’t supposed to be doing it, but that didn’t stop huge numbers of them from exchanging naughty pictures anyway.

So what’s to be done? Officials are now examining whether or not anyone should be prosecuted under federal child pornography charges. I’m not saying we should do nothing, but doesn’t that seem not only a bit extreme but misguided in terms of the original intent of the laws in question? We have those protections in place to stop sick, twisted adults from exploiting children and trafficking in such materials. These are kids who are foolishly producing the “product” themselves and sending it around their own peer group. There may be something illegal about it when children do it among and between themselves, but as creepy as it all sounds I’m not sure exactly what sort of criminal proceeding – if any – is appropriate here.

Short of that, what are we to do? Do we simply ban children under 18 from bringing phones to school? On a gut reaction level I’m actually all for that because those phones must be a huge distraction from school work and likely cause more problems than they solve. But at the same time, mobile phone technology not only exists but it’s pervasive in our society. That genie is already out of the bottle. And even if we banned the phones at school that wouldn’t stop the kids from taking nude pics off school grounds and exchanging them anyway.

The real failure here is not one of technology nor even of the schools, really. This is a societal failure which lands in the laps of the parents who failed to instill proper values in their kids and didn’t educate them about the horrible position they were putting themselves in. I hate to wave the white flag, but this doesn’t sound like a problem that government, or even law enforcement can fix. A lot of teenagers probably shouldn’t even have phones, but that’s up to their mothers and fathers to decide, not the schools or the cops. Of course, we’re fighting against something as old as time… the titillating allure of all things sexual to younger kids who are just waking up to their own sexuality in a cultured steeped in erotic imagery and messages. That’s probably too big of a battle for anyone to win. In the meantime, I think all we can do is keep trying to drill home the message to parents and get them to beat the message (figuratively) into their own kids. Show them the stories of young women – because it’s almost always the girls – who have had their lives and careers wrecked by having such pictures surface when they’re applying for college or a job. You won’t reach all of them, but this school is a clear signal that we need to be reaching a lot more of them then we are currently.