Protect children, don’t exploit them


Imagine if the tobacco lobby started smoker-friendly clubs in high schools, junior highs and even elementary schools. Imagine history textbooks that began including sidebars about famous smokers in history — or biology, literature and mathematics curricula designed to talk about tobacco at every turn. 

The children might never be encouraged to use tobacco. But every day kids would face questions from their teachers about whether they might chew or smoke at some point. Would anyone think that this is a good idea? Might some parents raise objections? 

Now imagine a tobacco lobby powerful enough to mount a nationwide public relations campaign that painted concerned parents as backward bigots incapable of making healthy decisions for their children. They might even have enough pull to pass school board policies forbidding teachers from informing such “backward parents” if their kids were caught smoking.

As icing on the cake, image a school organizing a field trip to address the legislature in support of a proposed law sponsored by the tobacco lobby. Some might call that advocacy. I would call it the exploitation of minors.

The important word, here, is “minors.” Those who object to such a dystopian school environment would not be objecting because tobacco is illegal. They would not be objecting because they have moral reasons for not smoking — in fact, many of the objecting parents might smoke or chew themselves. 

Whether parents think smoking to be disgusting or sexy, sophisticated or slovenly, is completely irrelevant. They would be objecting because the children are minors. Minors are not yet fully developed. Minor bodies may be pre-pubescent, or they may be rapidly developing. Either way, these young bodies are significantly more susceptible to the dangers of tobacco.

The mind is even more so. Neuroscience has determined that the human brain does not reach full maturation until it is 25 years old. Prior to that time, it is impulsive, prone to risky behaviors, and highly impressionable. So, not only is the adolescent brain more susceptible to peer pressure and the undue influence of adult mentors, it is simultaneously less resistant to addictive behaviors. This is a dangerous combination.

An adult who tries smoking in his late 20s is less likely to become addicted than a high school student. And yet, it is the high school student and not the adult who is likely to be goaded by his peers into smoking. The same is true of every addictive behavior.

Out of care and concern for all people who are passing through puberty and adolescence, wise societies have always taken special care to create a safe space where adolescents can grow up before being pressured into making choices that will change their minds and bodies for the rest of their lives.

Tobacco is only one of numerous things that are neither illegal nor intrinsically bad but are withheld from minors as they wait for the true freedom that comes from maturity. Driving a motor vehicle, opening a line of credit, drinking alcohol, marriage and sexuality are on this list as well. 

Only the wisdom that comes with age can equip them fully to evaluate such potent things as mind-altering substances and body-altering sexuality. There are healthy ways to use these things, as well as unhealthy ways. A culture that cares about its young people will give them the time and the information to find the healthy way. 

That means not only should we hinder minors from having access to these things, we should also shield them from overexposure to their use. Wyoming not only has laws against underage drinking, it also has laws that keep minors out of bars — even when they are not drinking. 

For the same reasons, Wyoming — as all civil societies — has laws against statutory rape. This is so because even if a minor consents, he or she is not mature enough to do so with full understanding of the physical, psychological and generational implications of the act.

In March, disciplinary protocols at McCormick Junior High were broken by a substitute teacher in a bid to politicize a disciplinary issue involving a student. The Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Casper Star Tribune have repeated allegations without evidence, knowing full well that the school administration is unable to speak about an ongoing investigation into the actions of a minor. This follows on the heels of students from Cheyenne Central High being used to lobby on adult-themed topics.

Last week Rep. Scott Clem, R-Gillette, raised concern about our young people being exploited by the press and by Wyoming Equality. As a trained caseworker for adolescents he is a proven advocate for kids, not a paid voice for the sex lobby. 

There is a culture-wide fight over the physical, spiritual and psychological dimensions of sexuality and marriage. Whether you have chosen a side, or still stand squarely in the middle, children are to be protected, not exploited. 

Those truly fighting for the health and well-being of our children will shield them from the battle, not use them as human shields. Whether from the tobacco lobby, the credit card industry or the sex lobby, protecting children is our common duty.

Jonathan Lange is an LCMS pastor in Evanston and Kemmerer and serves the Wyoming Pastors Network. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow his blog at OnlyHuman-JL.blogspot.com.

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