Teens, Social Media & the Potential Implications of ‘Sexting’

While this may come as a shock to some, about 25% of teenagers admit to “sexting” which is the sharing of messages, videos or images that are sexually explicit, according to a recent study and subsequent report published in JAMA Pediatrics. Given the popularity of social media platforms today, this has become a huge issue for parents and teens alike, given that sexting can result in legal consequences – and many teenagers don’t realize they could be committing a crime, or if they do, don’t think it’s something serious enough to worry about. iStock_000070295557_Large-2-300x200

Snapchat, Burn Note and Omegle are a few of the dozens of apps parents should be aware of, apps often used by teens to converse with people they know, and more frightening, those they don’t. Our society is one in which the majority of teens have a smart phone, and while they’re great when it comes to helping parents keep up with their kids or in case of an emergency, it’s important to realize that teens do things parents are often completely unaware of such as sending intimate photos to a boyfriend/girlfriend, or sharing videos or explicit photos of someone they know at school or even those who are complete strangers.

Many parents aren’t aware of the fact that some apps such as Snapchat allow the user to set a timer so that any nude or sexually explicit photos or videos disappear at a certain time. Teenagers’ interest in sex and nudity is certainly nothing new; in fact, you probably recall your own curiosity when you were a teen. It’s natural, however unfortunately today’s society is far different from that of 20 years ago. Teens who participate in texting or sharing data of a sexually explicit nature could find themselves in legal hot water.

There may be psychological risks as well as legal risks for teens

While sexting may result in legal punishment including fines, jail time, or participation in educational programs depending on the state, some believe there are psychological risks as well. According to an article at Psychology Today, teenagers who sext or are propositioned to send a sext are more likely to engage in sexual intercourse than their peers.

As parents we were once teens ourselves; we know that feeling of invincibility, that whatever we do it’s not a big deal and we won’t get caught – only this isn’t usually the case in reality. For teens, something that wasn’t a “big deal” can become very serious when a nude or otherwise sexually suggestive photo or text gets into the wrong hands. One person can receive a sext, share it with friends, then those friends share it with their friends and soon the situation backfires in a way that can impact those involved for years or even life.

Teens whose photos have gotten into many hands (and often the wrong hands) often find themselves the victims of bullying. Not only that, reputations are ruined and a child’s future can be negatively impacted given that potential employers, college representatives and others often come across sexually explicit and disturbing photos in their efforts to learn more about the individual and his or her “online” life.

In Michigan there isn’t currently a statute that addresses sexting; offenses involving the possession, creation or distribution of sexually explicit materials involving teens (often minors under the age of 18) may be prosecuted under child pornography laws. Ultimately, a teen who’s 14, 15, 16 or 17 years old could face felony charges and face prison time if convicted. Even worse, the teen may be required to register as a sex offender which will directly impact almost every area of his or her life in the future including employment, housing, certain legal rights and more.

Parents, principals and others have become extremely concerned about sexting and the dangers involved in what has become a very common crime, although most teens don’t think of it as a criminal offense. With technology readily available at every turn and smart phones in almost every teen’s hand it is critical that parents and other adults not only discuss the legal dangers, but approach the topic of sex as well.

Sex is a natural, normal part of life that we become aware of at a young age. Teenagers (and even pre-teens) are naturally curious; they have many questions, and by having open, honest discussions with teens rather than shying away from the topic it could be beneficial in a number of ways. When you don’t avoid the topic, kids aren’t so curious. To whatever extent you talk about sex-related topics and sexting, be sure to warn your teens about receiving, sending or sharing any information, photo or other content that’s of a sexual nature and how it could result in criminal charges.

Child pornography laws were created to protect children; ironically these are the same laws that may be used to prosecute and convict minors today for “sexting,” basically texting any content of a sexual nature using a smart phone or other electronic device. The top priority in a sexting case involving a teen is to have charges dismissed. When this isn’t a reasonable option it may be possible to have charges reduced, and to explore HYTA or other sentencing options.

Parents and others in an authority position – talk to teens about the very real dangers of sexting. You may help prevent legal and psychological consequences.

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