Sexting can have severe repercussions for K-12 students. Embarrassment is just the beginning.
A well-known politician posts a photo of his private parts on Twitter. The image gets leaked, he suffers humiliation, and the Congressman ultimately resigns in disgrace. Now there’s an entire Wikipedia article devoted to the incident. “Sexting for adults” one thing.
But when an underage kid sends and/or receives a sexually explicit photo, the consequences could be far worse than just being embarrassed or publicly shamed.
Depending on the jurisdiction, he or she could face criminal charges for child pornography and be compelled to register as a sex offender—a stigma that sticks for life and comes with burdensome notification requirements.
Nearly 80 percent of American teens (12 to 17) have cell phones. More than 90 percent access the Internet every day. Sexting—sending sexually explicit photos, voicemails, IMs, texts, videos, etc. via phone, computer, webcam, or other device—is becoming alarmingly widespread.
Kids—and even their teachers and parents—are often uninformed about the potential psychological, social, and legal ramifications of sexting.
Here are some important things to know:
Sexting with a minor is illegal.
Teens who take nude photos of themselves or other minors are producing child pornography—and when they send it, they’re distributing child porn. Some minors have been prosecuted for these actions and sent to jail, acquiring criminal records that will last a lifetime.
Note: About 20 states have enacted laws addressing sexting among minors, making it a misdemeanor instead of felony. Others are in the process of creating laws for this relatively new problem.
Sexting is forever.
The minute a photo or message is released, the sender relinquishes ownership—and control. Whoever’s on the receiving end can blast it all over the Internet, IM it around the world, post it on bathroom walls, and worse. Once it’s out there, it can’t be retrieved—and may haunt the sender well into adulthood as he or she applies to colleges and jobs.
Even Snapchat’s snaps and chats—which supposedly self-destruct within a few seconds of sending—can live on in the trashcan, on Snapchat’s server, or survive thanks to screenshots and third-party apps. What “disappears forever” can come back to life.
Sexting may be fatal.
The backlash for sexting can be cruel—and young women are particularly vulnerable. There are many stories of teen girls who’ve sexted and later been bullied for it—called vulgar names in person or online and ostracized by their peers. Such ridicule and humiliation can lead to a sense of hopelessness and depression and, in some well-known cases, even suicide.
Parents may be liable for their kids’ sexting.
If parents know their minor children are sexting but do nothing to stop it, they could be criminally charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor—and/or investigated by Child Protective Services. They may be also slapped with a civil lawsuit (filed by the parents of the kid who received the photos) for negligent supervision and infliction of emotional distress.
Parents need to be on high alert.
They should monitor their kids’ phone and Internet activity regularly and communicate the many dangers of texting to their children. Some children feel pressured to sext because they long to be liked and feel accepted—so it’s important for parents to remind kids of their self worth and keep the lines of communication open.
Educators have responsibility, too.
Kids as young as 7 are getting phones, and sexting can begin early. Create a safe space for students to talk about the temptations and tribulations of sexting—and make it part of the sex-education curriculum.
Find more tips for dealing with sexting here:
ConnectSafely — Tips for Dealing With Teen Sexting
National Crime Prevention Council — Sexting: How Parents Can Keep Their Kids Safe (fact sheet)
Kids Health — Sexting: What Parents Need to Know
What experiences have you had with sexting in your school? Let us know in the comments section below