Teens and Sexting – Talking to Your Kids About the Consequences

Most parents today didn’t have to deal with the concept of “sexting” when they were kids. We didn’t have smart phones that allowed us to send naughty photos to our boyfriend or girlfriend with the click of a button. This is new, uncomfortable territory for today’s parents, but it is incredibly important that we find a way to talk to our kids about sexting.

Sexting is when someone sends another person explicit photographs or messages via their cell phone or another electronic device, through text messaging or another message application.

There are some common-sense reasons why teenagers should not be engaging in sexting. First, they are simply too young to have an understanding of what the long-term consequences can be. Even setting aside the potential serious legal consequences, there are some really bad things that can happen when a kid sends an explicit or sexual photograph of themselves to another person.

Digital photographs aren’t like the print photographs that most parents dealt with while growing up. Once they are sent out into the world, there’s no way to claw them back. And once those photographs end up on the internet, they’re likely to be around forever. Literally. Forever.

This creates a huge risk that those photographs will create some real stress and embarrassment for your teenager in the future. Imagine if every time a potential employer did a google search of your name, a naked picture of you showed up in google images. We see more and more that photos that were meant to be privately shared between two people in a romantic relationship end up being shared on the internet after a breakup, which is now commonly known as “revenge porn.”

There are also people who will get ahold of these photos and use them as blackmail. They’ll send copies of the explicit photos to the person who is the subject of the photos, demanding things like money or more explicit photos, or threatening to release the photos on the internet if their demands are not met. You can never assume that an explicit photo is safe from misuse.

Aside from the potential embarrassment that can be caused by these types of photographs getting into the wrong hands, most teens are unaware of the potential legal consequences of sexting. In Michigan, and under federal law, creating or possessing explicit photographs of someone under the age of eighteen is a crime.

This means that a teenager under the age of 18 who takes an explicit photograph of himself or herself could be prosecuted for manufacturing child pornography, and when they send that explicit photograph to another person, they are guilty of distributing child pornography. A teenager who receives a message containing an explicit photograph of an underage peer is guilty of possessing and receiving child pornography. All of these are criminal offenses that could be prosecuted either by a state court prosecutor or a federal prosecutor. They carry penalties as high as thirty years in prison. Even if they are not incarcerated, they also face up to a lifetime on the sex offender registry.

Many parents are under the mistaken impression that prosecutors are not pursuing criminal charges against teens for these types of crimes. It’s simply not true.

Across the state of Michigan, prosecutors are charging teens with serious felonies involving sexting. Many times, these charges are being brought against otherwise great kids who made a poor, adolescent decision to to share explicit photos with a peer.

It’s a difficult subject to talk about with your teenager, but it is so important that your kids become aware of the potential consequences. So, if you have a teenager, what should you do?

  1. Start the conversation, and keep having it. This isn’t a one-time conversation. In order for kids to get it, they’re going to need you to be open with them and have regular conversations about what is happening around them, and what the potential consequences are for sexting activities, both on a personal level and a legal level. 
  1. Encourage your kids never to create an explicit image of themselves. Make sure your kids understand the consequences not just for themselves, but also for the people who are receiving the image. They could get themselves in trouble, but also send one of their peers to jail. 
  1. Talk to your teen about what to do if they receive an unsolicited explicit image from someone else. If someone else sends them an explicit image, they should not open it. They should not look at it. They should delete it immediately. 
  1. Make sure your teen knows their rights if they are questioned about sexting. Every teen makes mistakes. It’s a part of growing up. We want our kids to be truthful and cooperative with adults, but we don’t want them to talk themselves into felony charges that will impact them for the rest of their lives. Prosecutors and police don’t cut breaks for kids who make full confessions – it merely gives them the ability to prosecute them more easily. Make sure that your teen knows that if an adult wants to question them about sexting, whether it is a school official or a police officer, under no circumstances should they talk to the adult. They should ask for their parents, and politely refuse to answer any questions. If you, as the parent, get a call like this, you need to bring your teen to speak to an attorney immediately. 
  1. Don’t consent to a search of your teen’s phone or device. Police officers will often request that you or your teen consent to a search of their smart phone, computer, or other device. Do not ever consent, or allow your teen to consent, to a search of any device. If the police come to you with a search warrant, you’ll need to cooperate in handing over the items to be searched. If there is no search warrant, never turn any phone or other device over to the police. However, it is important to note that you should never destroy evidence. If you know that your teen is being investigated for sexting, destroying the evidence of the crime can have more serious consequences than the crime itself. Don’t do it. 
  1. Be Big Brother. While your teen is entitled to some privacy, you need to ensure that you know what their online activities are and monitor them to be certain that they are not engaging in sexting with anyone. 

As difficult as it can be, it is important for you and your teens to have an open conversation about sexting and its consequences.

If your teen is being investigated or has been charged with a sexting crime in the state of Michigan, Blanchard Law has significant experience in defending teens charged with sexting crimes. Contact Keeley Blanchard at 616-773-2945 today with any questions.

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