What a Lawyer Wants You to Know About Teen Sexting

Last week I wrote a post on what to do if the police want to question your teenager.

Based on the slew of emails and messages I got (and thank you to everyone who sent one), I totally ignored the 800 pound gorilla in the room.

Kids today are getting themselves into serious legal trouble while in your house or at a friend’s house, using something you use every day, all day.

While egging and TP’ing houses continues to be a thing (though maybe less of a thing with everyone having security cameras) and there are still kids who drink or use drugs, those are not the reasons why an increasing number of teens are getting in trouble with police.

Sexting.

Sexting, the sending of nude or sexually suggestive photos or messages by text message (yes, words alone can get you in trouble), is on the rise among teenagers. According to a recent JAMA study, approximately 1 in 7 teens send sexts, and 1 in 4 receive them.

With four soon-to-be teenage daughters, the 1 in 4 stat really hits home.

So why is sexting on the rise among teenagers?

We live in an age where everyone documents their life on their phone for public consumption. What you had for dinner, the mysterious rash on your leg, the amount of time your husband spends in the bathroom, everything is up from public discussion (and let’s face it, sometimes ridicule).

Teens are no different. They’re just better at using their phones and social media than we are.

We can all remember desperately trying to attract the objects of our affection as teenagers. In the 80s and 90s, we passed notes in class, spent hours on a phone attached to the wall, and made mixed tapes using our jamboxes (or boomboxes, if you prefer).

Teens have a whole arsenal of technology at their disposal. With their phones, they can connect to anyone, anywhere. Teens sext to show off, to entice someone, to show interest in someone, or to prove commitment.

But most troubling, sexting can be a sexualized abuse of power by boys over girls. Before I get a hundred comments of stories of girls who sexted a boy, keep in mind that boys are nearly four times as likely to pressure girls to send sexts as girls are to pressure boys to do so.

It’s crazy to think that we don’t let our kids drive cars until we know they have had lessons and proven themselves to be a safe driver. Heck we don’t even let them ride in a car without putting on a seat belt. Yet we hand them something as dangerous a cellphone with no rules and very little (if any) monitoring.

The smart folks at Common Sense Media have some great advice on how to talk to your teenager about the dangers of sexting, including reminding your kid that once an image is sent, it can never be retrieved and they will lose control of it. Their teachers, parents, the whole school, heck, the whole world, could see it. For more on their advice, click here.

I’ll leave it to the parenting experts to give you guidance on how to talk to your kids about the dangers of sexting.

What I am going to talk about is how much dang trouble your kiddo can get into for sending OR receiving a sext.

Before I start, I need to get one thing clear. Those sexts exchanged between you and your significant other? Perfectly legal between adults. But man, how embarrassed are you going to be when your kids come across those (and you know they will).

Okay, back to sexting between teenagers.

Under Texas law, any minor (a person under the age of 18) commits a crime if they send OR possess a sexualized image of any minor, including the sender, the receiver, or any other minor.

In Texas, it is a defense to prosecution when the image is solely of the sender or recipient, the sender and recipient are in a dating relationship, and not more than two years apart in age.

Your 16 year old daughter sends a nude picture of herself to her 18 year old boyfriend (I am seriously cringing as I am writing this)? Not a crime. Your 17 year old son receives a nude picture of his buddy’s girlfriend and either doesn’t immediately delete it or sends it to someone else? That’s a crime.

Let’s talk some more about possessing an image. A sexualized image of a minor, regardless of how willing the subject was in having the image taken, is child pornography, plain and simple. The mere possession of it, regardless of how you receive it, is a crime in Texas and everywhere else.

So let’s talk about how much trouble your teen can get into if they are sexting.

Under Texas law, sending or possessing a sexualized image of a minor is usually a class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $500. If the image was sent to harass or embarrass someone, it’s a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days  in jail and fines up to $2,000. Subsequent offenses are class A misdemeanors punishable by up to one year in jail and $4,000 in fines.

And what about child pornography? A way more serious offense, a felony in fact with lengthy prison terms and thousands of dollars in fines. First offense? Up to ten years in prison and $10,000 in fines. Second offense? Up to 20 years in prison and $10,000 in fines. Subsequent offenses? Up to 99 years in prison (or life) and $10,000 in fines.

A felony conviction would lose your teenager the right to vote, the right to own a gun, and make it difficult to find a job.

And sex offender registration.

Pretty serious stuff.

The making or possession of child pornography is also a federal crime, though under the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act, juveniles are usually (but not always) prosecuted in state and not federal courts.

Have I scared you enough?

So what do I want you to take away from this article?

First, talk (and keep talking) to your kids about the dangers of sexting, not just for their emotional well-being but to keep them out of trouble as well.

Second, come up with rules about your kid’s cell phone use and monitor your kid’s phone on a regular basis to make sure they are following the rules.

Finally, as the mother of four daughters I plead you parents of sons…

For the love of god, tell your boys to stop asking for nude photos.

Copyright © 2018 by Siobhán Fitzpatrick Kratovil. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

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