Dr. Wes: In February 2006, Marissa Ballard and I discussed then-Attorney General Phill Kline's attempt to extend the Kansas mandatory child abuse reporting law to include disclosures of consensual sex by teenagers under the age of 16. This meant that if a 14-year-old shared with her doctor or therapist that she was sexually active, that professional would be legally responsible for reporting this to the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services as child sexual abuse. Talk about a cooling effect on the doctor-patient relationship. Both Marissa and I commented that this was probably the worst innovation in managing teen sexuality ever imagined. Real sexual abuse - the exploitation of a minor by a peer or an adult - should be reported and investigated. But Kline's argument took this much further, and it raised far more questions than it answered. It was one of several issues that lead Kansans to vote overwhelmingly to reject Kline's re-election bid later that fall.
In fairness to Kline, the Kansas mandatory reporting statue (K.S.A. 38-1522) was pretty vague, and it's rarely been enforced. If you stretch your imagination a bit, you can understand how Kline became confused about its scope. The question most of us had at the time was WHY Kline was so interested in making that stretch. Whether we like it or not, there are teens under 16 who are sexually active. The last thing we should do is seek out a novel way of interpreting the law that drives teenagers further away from sharing their stories with health care providers.
We're happy to report that last week the matter was finally put to rest. The U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has dismissed what has become known as the Kansas "Kiss and Tell" case. A group of health care and counseling professionals filed a case challenging the policy and succeeded in permanently blocking it in 2006. Kline appealed before his tenure was ended. By that time the Kansas Legislature had revised the statute to make it clear that the law does not require blanket reporting. Of course, the ruling doesn't endorse early sexual activity among teens. However, most of the cool heads that have prevailed understand that reporting such behavior to the state is an incredible deterrent to families, health care providers and others dealing with the issue. Besides, SRS has more than enough on its plate.
In February 2006 this issue also caused Double Take to remind parents and teens that politics isn't just something "out there." It affects our lives each and every day. While many teens don't give political intrigue much thought, the "Kiss and Tell" case was a powerful reminder of how many governmental issues do affect teenagers. As we close out another odd chapter in recent Kansas history, I would reiterate the importance of taking an active role in how our nation, state and local communities are run. Even a quick review of current events suggests the need for each of us, even those who can't yet vote, to be vigilant in protecting our civil rights and demanding good government.
Recently the Journal-World reported on a young woman whose first task on her 18th birthday was to register to vote. I found it exciting that a young person would make voter registration her birthday present to herself - and sad that this event was newsworthy. I hope in the coming years that the disturbing issues of our day will instead make political action the routine among young people.
Julia: Speaking from the perspective of a potentially kiss-and-tell affected teenager, I would agree with the majority's opinion: BAD IDEA. Nothing could further enlarge the gap between adults and teenagers than to create one more invasion of privacy that teens could add to their list. Thankfully, the case has come to a close.
Teens are significantly less involved with the political world that surrounds them and that they will be forced to experience once they are adults. In fact, I'm sorry to say that I had not heard about "Kiss and Tell" until after the fact when the case had already been closed. However, upon reading up on it, I was surprised and a little enraged. The idea that those columns in the newspaper and stories on TV could have affected me without my knowing it is a loud wake-up call.
To my audience of teenagers and young adults - be aware of what is going on around you. Do not let yourself become ignorant of what goes on in the nation, state, city or even your school. I realize the mention of "politics" brings to mind an old man in a stuffy suit, but there's so much more to it than meets the eye.
To my adult audience - fostering an interest in local events can give children a basis in politics and keep them up to date. When I became involved with my mom's local volunteering efforts, it opened up a slew of local issues that I had no idea about. Getting involved in Lawrence's political scene gave rise to new opinions, new concerns and a desire to know and understand more.
To all readers, find a way to become involved - volunteering, student council. Anything is something. In a recent poll, 21 percent of Americans were able to identify U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, while 77 percent of Americans were able to identify Cindy Crawford. It's sad that the nipped and tucked are able to hold our attention easier than the people who help run our country, but it is a sign that we need to open our eyes and be aware of what affects our lives.
Next week: My son is rude. Is it normal teen behavior, or a sign of something more serious?
- Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Julia Davidson is a Bishop Seabury Academy junior. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues to firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence is strictly confidential.