You probably gave your teenager a cell phone for easy contact and peace of mind in emergency situations. However, cell phones come with risks, and sexting, or sending nude or sexual photos with an electronic device, has become a common occurrence. When the images involve persons younger than 18, teenagers can be prosecuted under child pornography laws. Here is how you can help your children avoid this unlawful situation.
Talking to your teen
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents talk to their teenagers, both boys and girls, about sexting and social media use. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Know which media or platforms your child uses to communicate. Learn about the technologies. Have a profile on the social media sites your child uses.
- Talk about your own social media use. Open a dialogue with your child about his or her own use.
- Talk to your teen about pictures and information sent via cell phone or the internet. Emphasize that anything she or she sends can be shared with the whole world. Discuss privacy settings and good judgment.
- Have a policy and strategy for monitoring where and what your child is doing online and on the phone. Discuss this with your child, and be transparent about your activity and your reasons why.
- Make sure your child knows that electronic messages should never contain sexual content, but address this age appropriately. Younger children can be told that they should never send pictures of themselves without their clothes on. Older children can be given more specifics.
- Tell your child that sexting is serious and the police could get involved, even if he or she only received sexting. Give the child a plan to handle the situation if he or she receives a sexual text.
- Be understanding. Remember that you once were young and wanted to explore your sexuality.
Consequences of underage sexting
Talking about sexting might be awkward, but it is less awkward than having the police show up at your door. Teenagers can be charged for sending images and having those images stored on their devices. Possible penalties include having to register on the sex offender list, doing community service and serving a sentence in a juvenile facility.
A youthful indiscretion does not have to end your child’s future. Teaching him or her to be safe online is preferred, but when something goes wrong, make sure you have a criminal defense attorney on your side to protect your teen’s rights.