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Teens & Sexting


Rather than being shocked to find that kids are sexting, we should start talking about it from an early age. In this blog find tips on how to get this important conversation started. 

What exactly is sexting?

Sexting is sending or getting sexually explicit or suggestive images, messages, or video on a smartphone or through the Internet.

Sexting includes sending:

  • nude or nearly nude photos or selfies
  • videos that show nudity, sex acts, or simulated sex

How common is it and why is it a BIG deal?

Sexting among teens is on the rise. According to JAMA Pediatrics, almost 27 percent of teens are receiving sexts and almost 15 percent are sending them and 12% forward them without consent. 

Teens should understand that messages, pictures, or videos sent via the Internet or smartphones are never truly private or anonymous. In seconds they can be out there for all the world to see.

Even if the image, video, or text was only meant for one person, after it's sent or posted, it's out of your teen's control. Lots of people might see it and it could be impossible to erase from the Internet, even if your teen thinks it's gone.

If a compromising image goes public or is sent to others, your teen could be at risk of humiliation, embarrassment, and public ridicule. Even worse, it could damage your teen's self-image and even lead to depression and other mental health issues.

Risky behavior online can haunt a college applicant or job-seeker years later. Many colleges and employers check online profiles looking for signs of a candidate's maturity — or giant red flags about bad judgment.

And there can be legal consequences. In some states, a teen could face felony charges for texting explicit photos or even have to register as a sex offender.

Sending naked pictures of minors is considered child pornography. It is illegal even when the photos are send intentionally. Many parents want to know the legal ramifications, which is important, but these may not be the most effective strategy to preventing sexting with your teen. It is likely that they know someone who has sent or received one without legal ramifications and may see this as a scare tactic. Instead, discuss how kids who send texts may feel embarrassed or depressed afterwards or regret it. 

Why teens may do it

Girls may sext as a joke, as a way of getting attention, or because of peer pressure or pressure from guys. Guys sometimes blame "pressure from friends." For some, though, it's almost become normal behavior, a way of flirting, seeming cool, or becoming popular.

And teens get some backup for that when lewd celebrity pictures and videos go mainstream. Instead of ruined careers or humiliation, the consequences are often greater fame and reality TV shows.

What parents should do

Let kids tell you what they know, what they think, what they’re seeing, what they’re feeling. It’s part of talking about safety, online and offline, and part of talking about social behavior, friendships and romantic relationships and how people treat others and want to be treated. For teenagers themselves, there is a thorough handbook available from Common Sense Media, which will walk a kid through the scarier scenarios.

For older teens help them understand what could happen if they do sext. It can be hard for teens to grasp the long-term results of impulsive behaviors. They might not understand how sharing everything now risks their reputations later.

Talk to your kids about how pictures, videos, emails, and texts that seem temporary can exist forever in cyberspace. One racy picture sent to a crush's phone easily can be forwarded to friends, posted online, or printed and distributed. An image sent to a boyfriend or girlfriend could lead to problems if someone else sees it or it's distributed after a break-up.

So how can you get through to your kids?

Talk openly about personal responsibility, personal boundaries, and how to resist peer pressure. Conversations like this should happen often — not just when problems arise.

Explain, early and often, that a sent image or message can't be taken back. It can, and likely will, spread to others who weren't meant to see it. Teach kids to follow the "WWGT" ("What would grandma think?") rule. If grandma shouldn't see it, they shouldn't send it.

And make it clear that there will be consequences if your kids are caught sexting. Be ready to take away devices or set limits to when and how they can use them.

Practice "What if" Scenarios and Share Stories

What if you feel pressured to send a sext and you don’t want to, what are the right strategies?

Who would you turn to, how could you get help and advice? 

You could ask them what they think they should do if they receive a sext from someone or someone asks them to send one. 

Share stories about sexting. Many schools have now encountered sexting incidents that you could use as teachable moments to share stories. The more current and close to home the better.  These videos are great to discuss with your teen.

 Teen Voices: Sexting, Relationships, and Risks

Ally's Story: Second Thoughts on Sexting

Sexting and the Law

According to a JAMA Pediatrics report from last April that analyzed 39 studies of just over 110,000 under 18-year-olds (the mean age was 15.16 years, but ages ranged from 11-17 years)— it was found that roughly 15% of teenagers send sexts and 28% receive them.

While many states have laws that specifically address teen sexting, California does not yet although one is proposed.  In the State of California currently, a teen who is caught sexting or, even simply possessing a sext message on his or her phone may face charges under the California sex offense statutes.

It is illegal in California to produce, possess or distribute “obscene matter[1]” of a child under the age of 18. (Pen. Code §311.1, 311.2 and 311.3)

A conviction on Penal Code section 311 can have severe consequences. A violation of this statute may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. But the most serious consequence is that a conviction under this statute can subject the violator to the state sex offender registration requirement. As a practical matter, most teens caught sexting will not face this extreme consequence, but he or she might very well still have to face a judge, with the likely outcome of being required to complete counseling, education and/or community service.

According to screenagers.com, In 2015, two 16-year-olds from North Carolina were arrested and charged with multiple felony counts of sexual exploitation of a minor under the state’s child pornography laws. Their crime? The boyfriend and girlfriend exchanged nude photos by text. They faced four to ten years in prison and would have to register as sex offenders if convicted. The kids agreed to a plea bargain that reduced their charges to misdemeanors. Still a scary situation to find yourself in. 

North Carolina, like half of states, doesn’t have a sexting law. If the couple was from a state that had a sexting law they would have most likely been charged with something such as a misdemeanor and given the chance to prove their intent was not criminal.

 Here is a chart of current state laws

 The best advice to give your child 

“Don’t sext and if anyone sends you a sext message, delete it immediately.” The best preventative is to educate your child to respect him or herself and others. Teens are often immature and impulsive and even good kids sometimes engage in risky behavior. If your child is caught sexting, don’t take it lightly because it can result in serious consequences. Get help from a therapist or another adult you trust if you need it. If you have any stories you'd like to share or questions please comment below. 


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