ST. CHARLES – Haines Middle School eighth-graders on Wednesday learned just how fast their smartphones can ruin a lifetime of good decisions.
Kane County Judges Clint Hull and Susan Clancy Boles, who previously spoke to Thompson and Wredling middle school students in St. Charles, explained to the teens how the text messages and photos they send can become a criminal matter.
"That crime is committed in one second," Hull said.
Misuse of devices – such as smartphones, computers and tablets – and social media sites, such as Facebook and Snapchat, have resulted in more and more criminal case filings and youth coming before the judges in their courtrooms, they said.
"It's getting worse," Boles said. "It's not getting better."
Bullying texts or social media posts can lead to criminal charges of harassment through electronic communications, they said, and the handling of revealing photographs – not necessarily nude photographs – can quickly elevate from sexting to child pornography charges.
Each person who sent the message and each person who allowed his or her phone to be used to send that message can get into trouble, Hull said.
"You can't just sit on the sidelines to some of this behavior," Boles said, advising students to show an administrator, teacher or parent unwanted communications immediately.
Consequences for misdemeanor charges can include jail time, fines and community service – which can interfere with after-school activities, the judges said.
"That absolutely goes away," Boles said. "Your time is no longer your own. Your time becomes our time."
Consequences for felony charges – such as distributing child pornography – can include prison time, mandatory supervision and registering as a sex offender, the judges said. Hull told the students that a felony conviction can affect their ability to attend college, get financial aid and get a job.
Both judges said defenses they often hear from young people or their parents – such as "my property can't be searched" – won't work. And it's no use to tell judges that "everyone does it," they said.
"We don't have everybody in front of us," Boles said. "We have you."