Teens, Sexting and Pornography Charges

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sextingThe summer before my daughter’s freshman year of high school, at marching band camp, we got an early education we weren’t expecting.  We learned that a combination of teens, cell phones and nude pics could result in pornography charges.  The shocking lesson about “sexting” was an eye-opener.

Teens and Cell Phones

Teens have cell phones in their hands constantly, posting and messaging each other constantly.  While sitting next to each other, they message each other.  It induces eye-rolling and complaints from their parents (and the other adults around them), but many of us have come to accept it as the new normal.  We know our teens are using their phones to message and send pics to each other.  But how many of us monitor everything they’re sending (or receiving)?  I know I don’t (even now). 

And it never even occurred to me back then.

Teens, Cell Phones and Nude Pics

We know sending nude pics is a thing. Sending sexual pictures and messages, or sexting, is a thing.  We just don’t like to think of our kids as being involved with that.  Surely they aren’t doing that??  They’re too young for that.  They’re too innocent for that.  They wouldn’t do that…

Oh yes, they would.

It’s really not that big of a leap.  Really.  Teens take pictures of everything.  They take pictures of nothing.  They don’t even really think about it.

But nudes??  Sexting??

Yup.

What’s really scary is how common it is.  Talking with a friend who has teenage daughters recently, we were discussing how our teen girls have come to accept it as normal to be asked for nude photos. Seriously.  Normal.

IT’S. NOT. NORMAL.

But sexting and sending nude pics has become so prevalent that teens feel it’s normal.  They don’t see it as crazy or outrageous.  It’s normal for girls to be asked to send nude pics.  Until it comes from someone close to them, someone they care about, then it’s hurtful and feels like betrayal.

But no matter who it comes from, it’s not normal. 

In fact it’s illegal.

Sexting and Pornography Charges

Remember how I mentioned marching band camp?

Yeah, we got an education that summer.  From the police.

We were summoned.  A sudden, MANDATORY parents meeting that ALL parents (one per student) were required to attend.  We weren’t told ahead of time why. We didn’t know what was going on.  When we got to the school auditorium, the police officer began to speak. We parents got quite an education—right there and then—about teens, cell phones, nude pics, and pornography charges. Although we never were explicitly told what prompted the meeting, we could guess.

You see, nude pictures of someone under the age of 18 are considered child pornography.  When they send one of those nude pictures, now it’s distribution of child pornography.  And the receiver is now in possession of child pornography.  And if they forward it…

Yeah, you get the picture.  

It snowballs fast. Because if teens don’t think anything about using their cell phones to take pictures (even of things they shouldn’t), teens certainly don’t think twice about forwarding things they receive on their phones.  One quick “click” and it’s off to their friends.  And a whole new set of charges.  

Permanent Record

Child Pornography charges get you listed on the sex offender registry.  Child porn charges follow you for years, if not for life.  

It’s not something you want on your record, or even worse—on your child’s record.

EDUCATE

Teach your children about these things.  They have no idea how the world works.  They don’t understand the implications of what they are doing. And they don’t understand what child pornography charges will mean to their lives. 

Before I sat down in that meeting, sending nudes and sexting was something I had mentally relegated to political scandals—NOT to my teenager.  It wasn’t in my realm of awareness, not something I thought about as relating to me or my family.  But sitting in that meeting, listening to the officer speak, I realized just how easy it would be for a teen to make a mistake that would haunt them for years.  

While I seriously doubt my kids are doing any of this (seriously), it’s worth educating them to help prevent them from doing something that later they would look back and see as really, really stupid.

Yeah, that’s an uncomfortable conversation I’m willing to have. 

Hard Conversations

These are difficult conversations. But for our kids, we need to do it.  I have had conversations with my daughter, and now that I have a teenage son, it’s time for conversations with him.

In my house, I try to keep the initial conversations simple. Those talks get more complicated as needed or to address questions and topics my kids want to talk more about. 

Talk To Your Kids

With sexting and nude photos, these are things I keep in mind:

  1. Once you send out a photo, it belongs to the universe.  You have no control over what the person you’re sending it to might do with it.  Now, or years from now.  Is that photo you’re sending something you would want the whole world to see?
  2. That is your body, respect it.  That includes who gets to see it, touch it, please it or draw pleasure from it.  If you are sending pictures to someone for them to draw pleasure from, is that respecting your body?  Does the person asking you for that respect you?
  3. Be aware of what the rules/laws are.  Know where the lines are and when you are crossing them.  Respect them or you could end up paying a price.
  4. Respect other people.  That includes respecting their bodies.  If someone sends you something they shouldn’t, stop the chain right there.  Don’t forward things you shouldn’t, or things you wouldn’t want forwarded of you.
  5. If someone chooses to share something intimate with you (thoughts, feelings, physical), respect that.  Keep it private.  Value that trust and treat it as something of value. Don’t betray it. Neither of you will recover from that.

I can’t monitor everything my kids do.  But I can make sure they are as knowledgeable as possible, and that they have thought about things ahead of time.  If we talk about issues before the moment of truth arrives, I’m hoping they’ll be prepared—that knowing what to do is more of a reflex than a decision they have to make in the moment. 

Hopefully, I’ve done my job and they’ll make good choices.  It’s all any parent can hope for.

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Once Upon A Time, in another life, Kristin graduated from the University of Michigan with a plan to teach high school math. But then, life happened when she wasn’t looking…. She married an Army guy and 23 years, 3 kids, a few dogs, 7 homes, and 2 continents later she’s now a single mom living here in Colorado Springs. Along the way she volunteered for the Army, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and several schools; managed volunteer organizations, coached judo, trained to be a whitewater rafting guide, biked down Pike’s Peak and even managed to teach some high schoolers a little math before forging new trails writing, teaching and financial planning. She never knows what’s coming around the bend, but she’s learned to handle whatever life (and the Army!), throws at her with a smile and a laugh. She’s pretty sure you can get through anything with those, even if you have to fake it occasionally!!