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Teen sexting: What all parents need to know

Technology is ever-changing and has many beneficial components; however, with the changes in technology, we are seeing the rise of crimes that come along with it, such as sexting. Parents need to know what sexting is, and how to make sure their kids aren’t involved.


Do

Do know what sexting is

The ability to quickly exchange or share videos or pictures has become second-nature due to the incredibly fast technologies that are available today. While it’s often a beneficial way to share positive and exciting moments or experiences in our lives, it’s also a way for people to send nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves - known as sexting.

Do know the ramifications

Sexting under the age of 18 can be considered a felony. Because there is no federal legislation (yet) on sexting, most law enforcement agencies around the country have discretion when it comes to handling sexting cases involving minors. This means since many states have no sexting legislation of their own specifying how these incidents should be handled, law enforcement can decide to handle it as they deem appropriate. What we do know is that there is a federal law which prohibits the creation, possession, and/or distribution of images of nude or semi-nude minors - also known as the child pornography. So, any sending, posting, sharing, or creating of these images (often times kids exchanging pictures/videos amongst girlfriends or boyfriends), can potentially land the participants in violation of federal law.

Do talk to your kids

The largest problem with sexting is that kids aren’t aware of the potential consequences. Students will often admit that they know it’s not something they should probably be doing, but that they didn’t know it carried potential legal consequences. Another major message you should convey to your children is that once it’s out there, you can’t take it back. This seems to be a message lost amongst adults as much as children, but should be something that’s discussed regularly. There have been many national cases of minors sexting which have been successfully prosecuted, and one where the student admitted that he didn’t know it was so serious. This particular case involved pictures his girlfriend sent him via text; he is now a convicted felon and has to register as a sex offender as a result of this “dumb mistake” he admits he made. Don’t let your kids fall victim to this, a simple conversation can prevent big mistakes.

Do know that there’s a major difference between adults sexting and minors sexting

Many adults often send racy pictures of themselves (many even posting them on social networking sites for millions to see). While this isn’t necessarily illegal (unless you’re sharing them with someone under 18), it’s not very smart and certainly doesn't set a good example for kids who may see these images and think it’s OK to follow suit. Sexually explicit images of minors that are nude or semi-nude is illegal to create, distribute or possess.


Don't

Do not think you’re immune to the consequences

While most kids don’t fully understand the potential consequences when it comes to sexting, there is often a feeling of “it won’t happen to me” or “it won’t happen to my child.” This is a very dangerous approach to have when it comes to sexting, as every time an images is taken, sent, received, shared or posted, records are often kept in various places (one’s phone, servers, and logs often kept by the companies). Additionally, it’s possible for people to share, copy, or repost. Apps like Snapchat have been notorious for sexting, as it boasts that its pictures/videos “disappear” after a specified time. Even these images and videos can be found during forensic investigations, and screenshots can be taken and shared. Be proactive; let your kids know what it is and what the potential consequences are.

Do not turn a blind eye and hope your child isn’t sexting

While parents do their best to make sure that their kids are educated and making the right decisions, this doesn’t mean our kids are immune to bad things happening to them. Often times kids are sent these images as a result of a forward (someone seeking to humiliate someone else, or even a disgruntled boyfriend or girlfriend looking to embarrass their ex). It’s important we’re constantly checking in with our kids, letting them know they can come to us should a situation arise. Should parents ever be notified that a picture or video has been received by their child, they should shut off the device (do not forward it or delete it) and take it to law enforcement immediately. While kids are inherently good, developmentally they aren’t always prepared to make the right decisions, so parents are the first line of defense.

Do not forget to check in often

We know that kids aren’t always developmentally equipped to make the right decisions, or formulate long-term consequences along with their actions. As parents, we have to ask questions - all the time - despite the countless eye-rolls we may get in the process. With technology, it’s imperative that our kids know we’re checking in, and paying attention - it can be an exceptional deterrent. While kids will often admit that they’d get in some trouble if they were caught sexting, they often don’t know the potential long-term consequences, which is why it’s so important that we are checking in with our kids about their smartphone/tablet/computer useage.

Do not rely on schools/law enforcement to be actively confronting sexting

While many schools and law enforcement agencies around the country are discussing potential technology pitfalls such as sexting with students, many are also relying on parents to be dealing with it on their own. Often schools struggle with finding age-appropriate ways to discuss sexting with students, and often times they don’t have the budget or time in their curriculum to address it. With that, parents are ultimately the best resource and best line of defense when it comes to sexting. Don’t rely on others to be educating them, be proactive and start the conversation as soon as they have their own devices. Even with younger kids the topic of sexting can be addressed early on by encouraging them to keep their text/posts appropriate and responsible. Setting this expectation and precedent early on can help thwart potential bad decisions down the line.


Summary
Jumping cartoon

With the advent of many new picture/video sharing apps, it’s easier than ever to share with friends, family - and even strangers - across the globe. While picture/video sharing can be a wonderful way for kids to share a variety of positive experiences, sexting is often an unfortunate reality that comes along with the territory. It’s imperative to constantly remind kids that any image sent out via text message, email, or picture sharing service can not be undone or taken back. Additionally, sexting involving minors can potentially be a very serious violation of federal child pornography laws; most kids don’t even know this, so discussing the potential ramifications can be a very powerful deterrent. Simple and frequent conversations about appropriateness and responsibility when it comes to sharing pictures and videos can go a long way in helping your kids make positive decisions.


More expert advice about Raising Teens

Photo Credits: © amyinlondon - Fotolia.com; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com

Katie L. GreerCEO

Former Director of Internet Safety for the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office and Intelligence Analyst for the Massachusetts State Police, Katie LeClerc Greer travels the country educating students, parents, administrators and law enforceme...

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