Minors and Sexting: Real Ramifications

Sexting among teens is very common.  Yes, parents, at least 57% of teenagers have been asked to sext, according to one study.  The ramifications of minors’ sexting are real, can be serious, and can affect many involved.  Lesley Cross, licensed professional counselor in Worthington, Ohio, addresses sexting among children and teenagers, with my discussion of the legal severity of sexting following.

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“Minors and Sexting: Real Ramifications,” by Lesley Cross:

From the time they understand what is in their parents’ hands, they want it.

The smart phone.

And many of us are guilty (myself included) of handing over the device for entertainment value.  Kids today are more technologically savvy than many of their parents. They’re on smart phones, chrome books, iPads and tablets more each year and with this technological freedom comes real risks.

While our children can receive true benefits associated with technology (learning apps, research, hand eye coordination, etc.) there are downsides to the use of technology as well.  One of these risks is sexting (sending nude or semi nude photos via text and email.)  We want to think this is a topic that our tweens and teens don’t have to worry about but the reality is, middle and high schools nationwide are battling the sexting war.

It’s important to have conversations with children EARLY about the risks of technology.  Even if your child is not the one sending photos to others, they may be the recipient of such photos which can be just as emotionally upsetting and legally responsible. Sharing what the expectation is for phone use, discussing consequences and helping to ensure the child’s self-esteem and self-worth is grounded in more than their physical appearance is important.

Children need to have a healthy understanding of relationships and the communication between partners is part of that. Consider what you are modeling to them and what movies and shows are teaching as “the norm.”  Shows like the Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Dating Naked, etc., promote that sexuality is a power tool and privacy is not of value.  What are children observing in our homes and community?  They take it all in!

In addition to our conversations with our children, parents need to be extra involved with their children and technology.  Parents need to check the text messages, have limited access to sites, be aware of their children’s history and also be informed about Vault style apps that hide “the real” information from easy sight.  Parents are encouraged to have passwords to their children’s accounts, limit social media access and continually check the ways in which devices are being used.  If inappropriate use is discovered, consequences must occur, such as reporting to schools, removal of access to technology, counseling if appropriate, etc.

Kids sext for a number of reasons, none of which are emotionally healthy.  And what may have started as a flirtation-intended message might result in opportunities for bullying, isolation, anxiety, shaming, fear and depression. These psychological risks are not the only lasting impact of sexting as there are also legal risks associated.

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Legal ramifications of minors’ sexting:

As Lesley states, the ramifications for minors of sexting, whether they are sending or receiving sext messages, can have detrimental and long-lasting psychological effects, especially because teenagers often lack an appreciation for the consequences of not being able to “take back” a nude photo.  There are very serious legal consequences, however, that teenagers, and their families, might not fully appreciate.

If a minor (under age 18) sends a sext message, generally regarded as creating, sending, receiving or showing sexually-oriented content, including images and words, via cell phone, email, social media or other online communications, the following people could face legal consequences: the person who sent the sext, received it, forwarded it, kept it, posted it, showed it to anyone, and the minor’s parents.  Although Ohio has no specific sexting laws, charges will come under child pornography statutes, including pandering, obscenity involving a minor, child endangerment, possessing nude images of a child, and other crimes.  If a teenage girl sends a nude picture of herself (called “promoting” under the law) to her teenage boyfriend, both can be charged.  If the boyfriend forwards the picture to his classmate, the classmate can be charged.  And, since parents have ultimate control and responsibility of electronic use in the home, home computers and cell phones can be confiscated as evidence and parents can be charged, or sued for damages connected to their child’s distribution of obscenity.

Child pornography is a serious felony—the second most serious felony in Ohio.  Two teenagers near Cincinnati were charged under child pornography laws for one teenager—the girlfriend—sending nude photos to another teenager—the boyfriend.  Both have to register as sex offenders.  These are strict liability statutes and do not differentiate for sexting participants who are dating if at least one person is a minor.

Due to their feelings of being invincible, tweens and teens often do not consider consequences.  Interestingly, what grabs teenagers’ attention most is the immediate consequence of having their phone confiscated by police.  The moral and future consequences must be communicated to them clearly, consistently, and from an early age.

Published by Julie Mills, Attorney at Julie Mills Law LLC.

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