Teen Sexting on the Rise: What This Could Mean For Your Child

Your teen or tween could be facing child pornography charges or forced to register as a sex offender.  Why? For participating in a 21st century version of I’ll-show-you-mine if you-show-me-yours.

Two 16 year-old teens in North Carolina were charged with various counts of child pornography after sending one another nude selfies. Middle school students in Northern Indiana were charged with child pornography and exploitation after sharing naked photos.

In both cases, charges were amended to misdemeanors or eventually dismissed. However, each family undoubtedly endured an enormous amount of stress, public humiliation when the stories were made public, and legal fees required to ensure their youngsters were fairly represented. Parents cannot afford to take this youthful indiscretion lightly.

The precise definition of sexting is a bit fuzzy. Pop culture explanations don’t always square with the legal definitions outlined in state laws. In general, sexting involves sending a nude or nearly nude photo of yourself.

Research citing the amount of sexting among children varies considerably. One reason involves the definition of sexting and the age of teens studied. Teens over 18 are much more likely to send suggestive photos of themselves. When older teens are included, these studies can produce a more dramatic result.

Studies that focused on children under 17 report a range from 2 – 7 % of tweens and teens admitting to sending such photos. Teens who pay all costs associated with their mobile devices are more likely to engage in sexting. 15% of children who own phones report receiving these types of messages.

The average child receives their first mobile device by age twelve. 91% of teenagers have access to the Internet on a smartphone or other mobile device. Parents need to provide guidance and monitor phone usage to help avoid the experience that one stunned mother shared. “I caught my 12 year old daughter sexing and it pretty much broke my trust.

While sexting may appear to some as harmless, adolescent pranks indicative of children maturing and exploring their sexuality, there are real world implications at play. All parents need to be aware of their child’s digital activities and mindful that sexting is treated as a serious offense.

States are scrambling to update laws in response to this growing phenomenon. To date, 20 states have laws specifically criminalizing sexting. States without specific sexting laws address the issue with existing child pornography statutes. Five states — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Nebraska, and Utah – have provisions that in some instances can result in a felony conviction.

Penalties vary wildly. Louisiana’s law permits up to 10 days imprisonment for a first offense. New Jersey authorities charged 16 year-olds with distributing child pornography after their explicit conversations were made public. Parents should know that children receiving such messages can be charged as well if they either share the message with friends or neglect to delete them and/or report the incidents to authorities.

Jeff Temple, an associate professor and psychologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston published a survey that links sexting to real world sexual activity.  Temple told The Washington Post that sexting is often a precursor to sexual behavior because it increases a child’s comfort level with going to the next level.

Rather than panic, parents should be proactive. Don’t give up the convenience of smartphones to avoid the potential for sexting. Take preventative measures to protect your child from themselves and others who might pull them unwittingly into a legal or embarrassing fiasco.

Set Expectation Early and Often

Until a chastity app that disables all mobile photo functionality proposed by Michelle Collins — co-host of The View — is developed, parents need to set clear expectations for children with mobile devices.

The Mobile Media Guard suggests parents treat mobile phone responsibility similar to driving. Most parents are insured which covers lawsuits in the case of automobile accidents. Civil lawsuits resulting from a sexting misadventure could target the parents as the actual owners of the phones involved.

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Use Public Cases to Spur Discussion

Use public cases in the media to talk with your children about the potential ramifications of sending or receiving sext messages.

Parents who discover inappropriate messages can use this as a teachable moment to reinforce expectations. Reinforce what healthy boundaries look like for relationships that your child may be engaging in.

Monitor your child’s usage

Children need to know their activity on smartphones is being monitored – constantly.

Random searches can be an effective deterrent against inappropriate behavior. However, there are also apps that can monitor a child’s digital behavior and alert you to suspicious activity.

Teensafe has proven to work effectively as a tool for parents to start conversations with their child about digital safety. With sexting on the rise, it is more important than ever to teach your child how to manage what they share online and what they should keep private.

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