In case you are not familiar with his new problem among teenagers let’s start with a basic definition. Sexting is defined as the act of sending sexually explicit images or text messages between cell phones. Sexting between adults carries its own risks. To me it can be tantamount to posting a naked picture of yourself on Facebook. Something most of us would prefer to avoid. Of course for teenagers the problem becomes more complicated and potentially much more damaging. Three things come to mind.
1. Possessing sexually explicit images of teenagers under 18 years old is considered child pornography and it is a federal third degree felony that is punishable by a prison sentence and most likely being forced to register as a sex offender.
Sexting is not the modern version of “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine”. Having these images is a very serious crime. Obviously defending your teenager against these charges is a very expensive proposition. If your teenager is convicted and forced to register as a sex offender he or she will have to inform his or her employer and his or her neighbors of this fact. There are very strict restrictions regarding where sex offenders can live or work. There will also surely be a prolonged probation process that can be humiliating and costly. For a detailed description of child pornography possession statues please click here.
If your teenager is the victim of this crime imagine the pain and humiliation that they will have to endure at the hands of the police and the courts. Remember that sometimes the state or the federal government can chose to go forward with a case even if you would rather not. Your teenager may be forced to tell the story of what happened over and over again, confirm that these pictures are of them and testify about what happened in front of complete strangers who may try to discredit them publicly.
2. Teenagers are much worse than adults at making decisions regarding who to trust with what information. As a consequence the socially damaging effects of sexting can be really disastrous.
Teenagers can get themselves into these legal and personal messes much more easily than adults. Because a teenager’s brain is not fully developed they have difficulty making good decisions regarding succumbing to pressure to send explicit images of themselves to others. Once someone has these images, of course, they can be distributed, shared, posted, printed etc… It’s no news flash that kids can be cruel. The reputation of your teenager can be completely destroyed to point where changing schools becomes necessary. The consequences for your teenager’s self-esteem can also be quite severe because of the ensuing humiliation, betrayal and rejection.
3. Teenagers who sext are more likely to be sexually active and to participate in risky sexual behavior.
There are those who would suggest that sexting is an alternative to actual sex. That sexting is relatively harmless and can take the place of unsafe sexual practices. Research shows the opposite to be true. A recent article published in the journal Pediatrics confirms that teenagers who sext are more likely to be sexually active and participate in sexually risky behavior. For me these results back up what most people would consider to be common sense. If you catch your teen sexting it would be foolish to assume that that’s the only sexual behavior that is happening. I suggest that you try to find out as much as you can about your teenagers sexual behavior and get your teenager checked for sexually transmitted infections and if your teenager is female, administer a pregnancy test. If you find your teenager in this situation try to keep your emotions under control, get your teenagers checked out by a medical professional and have a non-punitive heart to heart talk about safe sex/abstinence, and the very real world consequences of sexting. As a parent remember that you can set up whatever rules and in-home consequences you deem appropriate and don’t be afraid to take away the cell phone or remove its ability to text or use the internet.
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By Miguel Brown