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education.com asks:
Q:

Can parents be prosecuted for sexting by their teens?

"I had just recently found some pictures in my son's phone and I am totally shocked and scared. I do not know what to do and if I should tell the girl's parents or not. Is this a crime punishable to the parents of these "sexting" teens? Can us as parents be prosecuted? I am totally thrown thru a loop right now, I don't know what to do."

Asked by Trish after reviewing the article, "Is Your Child Sexting? What Parents Need to Know":
http://www.education.com/magazine/article/child...
In Topics: Children and cell phones, Teen issues, Teen sexuality and dating
> 60 days ago

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Expert

Boys Town National Hotline
Feb 11, 2010
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What the Expert Says:

Thank you for writing to www.education.com with your parenting concerns and question.  Sexting has rapidly become an acceptable practice among teens as a means to flirt with or communicate interest in another teen.  Fortunately, most all parents are as outraged as you are about this recent trend as the private flirtations often times become very public.  Teens share text messages with others; frequently the pictures are posted on the internet for all to see.  

While there have been many reports in the media of teens being arrested and prosecuted for this behavior there have not been reports of parents incurring punishment.  You might want to contact your local District Attorney’s office for information on the recent or local respond to the trend.  Responses vary across the country and from one community to the next.

Professionals, educators, parents, etc are all called to find ways to curb this disturbing behavior.  As a parent, education is probably your greatest prevention tool.  Teach your son that although his friends and society might paint the behavior to be playful, that sexting is wrong and can have serious consequences for years to come.  More and more, employers are beginning to look at various means of measuring a potential employee’s moral and ethical code when making hiring decisions.  Colleges and universities are looking at online social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook before making final decisions for acceptance and financial scholarship for students.  The consequences of participating in sexting can be far reaching.  

Start in the home by teaching your son appropriate alternatives to the current practice of sending nude pictures as a way to connect with others.  Introduce him to more appropriate and legal alternatives such as talking by phone, visiting in person or engaging in recreational activities, attending a sporting event or attending cultural events as a means to further friendships.

Hopefully, you are feeling confident in approaching your son to talk about this issue, however, if you aren’t quite sure what to say or how to say something to him, please feel free to contact the Boys Town National Hotline at 1-800-448-3000.  Trained counselors are available to speak to you to give you the support and encouragement you need to act swiftly and appropriately to curb this behavior.

Remember that you as his parent are responsible for his moral development and character.  Don’t be afraid to issue consequences such as canceling his cell phone or eliminating his access to the computer if his behavior continues despite your discussion.  
Please feel free to share our toll free Hotline number with your son and also other parents.  We are here to help teens and parents with issues just like what you are describing.  

You can also find helpful information on parenting topics at the Boys Town website of www.parenting.org.  In addition, your son might be interested in checking out www.yourlifeyourvoice.org – a site designed to help teens find help for themselves.

Thanks again for your question today.

Linda, Counselor
Boys Town National Hotline
1-800-448-3000

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Additional Answers (6)

~kisses~
~kisses~ writes:
if you were not the one send the messages you will not be punished but you really do need to tell the girls parent. i am a teen but i would never be caght dead sexting my boyfriend.

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TheMediatrician
TheMediatri... , Parent, Child Professional writes:
Dear Trish,

When you think about it, sexting (sexual content + text messaging) is the perfect storm for teens: Start with the fact that they’re at the peak of sexual urges and curiosity, then combine it with their tremendous love of media and ease with technology. If that weren’t enough, you can add parents who are often uninterested in how media work, plus the fact that teens have not fully developed the area of the brain that lets them think through future consequences.

From a developmental perspective, exploring sexual expression is normal behavior for teens, regardless of whether adults approve of how, when, and where they choose to do so. However, the Digital Age has raised new concerns about these expressions. In the past, a printed photograph could be given to a love interest in relative privacy. Even if the photograph was passed around between friends, the print could eventually be destroyed. With today’s digital pictures and messaging, however, sexual photos and texts can spread to many more people much more rapidly, and since each person owns a copy of the file after they receive it, there is no good way to make sure that all copies are destroyed.

This has unexpected legal (and social) implications. Most of the laws about child pornography were established before the Internet became widely used, and certainly before sexting existed. In many states, your son, the girl in question, and anyone else connected to those images could be subject to prosecution under child porn charges, which could mean ending up as registered sex offenders—which sticks for a long time. Ironically, the laws that were created to protect children from being victimized by pornography are being used to convict children, who, in many ways, are doing what kids have always done.

Given all of these factors, do everything in your power to keep this out of the legal system and within the context of your family and the family of the girl in question. First, talk to your son. Avoid making this a moral question—this is not about whether he’s a good kid or not. You could say, for example, “We can deal with the issues of whether this was a good decision later, but right now, we need to talk about how to clean this up.” Then you should think about talking to the young woman and her parents, stressing that your concern is for her safety. Then, if necessary, consult an attorney about how the laws work where you live.

Ideally, prevention is the most effective approach. I encourage parents to really think through the implications of giving a child a cell phone, just as they would think through the implications of letting a child drive: he first needs to learn to use the tool safely. And that’s probably why you got him a phone in the first place—to keep him safe. To maintain that safety, start having clear, open discussions about what the phone will be used for as you move forward, who pays for it, and when and if you as a parent will have access to it. This is not to check up on him but rather to make the point that what’s on that phone is not, as he has now discovered, truly private.

See below for an MTV documentary on the consequences of sexting.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
Dr. Michael Rich, The Mediatrician®

This question was also answered on Ask the Mediatrician: http://www.askthemediatrician.org/2010/02/are-parents-legally-responsible-when-their-teens-engage-in-sexting.html

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KiwiCommons
KiwiCommons , Child Professional writes:
In terms of the legalities and prosecution for the picture in question, you, as a parent, would not likely be charged in a case like this. Recently however, there have been many cases of sexting that ended in charges against teens, many of which have found themselves on the sex offenders list for distributing child pornography. It is important to find out if your son has sent that picture to anyone else and who he might have shown it to. In this particular instance, it is vital to protect the girl's rights as well as ensure your son is not (possibly unknowingly) distributing nude photos of a minor to any of his friends. For more information on how to deal with your son's sexting, check out the resources below.

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MimiR
MimiR writes:
Pictures aren't sexting, and your son can be prosecuted for sure.  

He needs to lose the phone, pronto.
> 60 days ago

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LauraD
LauraD writes:
i would not think so, but so many thing these days that our kids do with out our knowledge seem to come back on to the parents.  so what is the answer
> 60 days ago

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Yoda2
Yoda2 writes:
What you teach your children is justice and the application of power.

Sextign is healthy, fun, passionate at a good age and sexaul and romantic experience level. Ie just as its daft to try black runs on your first day skiing sexting should be left till you have clocked up sufficeint experience datign, possibly getting dumped, moving up to 2nds base, going a bit steady etc.

You never do it with strangers and note anyoen you have only met online IS STILL A STRANGER AS ANYONE CAN PRETEND TO BE ANYONE, IE DO YOU REALLY THINK I AM A LITTLE GREEN POINTY EARED JEDI MASTER?

 You only show what you are happy for a partner to see in real life and really given risks have the stomach for anyone else to.


in the past this would be sexy romantic phone calls, letter, poleroid photos bypassing the local photo lab.  Teens have hormone s, peoepl with hpormones want to flirt express fertility attract and turn on parenters this is all perfectly normal and healhty.

The only problem is that the photos can be copied indefinetely so cant be controlled on how long they last and who sees them in the future.

This is not in any logical sense child porn whihc logically can only apply to photos of prepubescents used in a malicious manner that will hurt or dominate the person in the photos to encourage malicous acts.

having fun flirtign so the object you fancey wants to make out with you is not a negative thing, no victim no crime.

However bullying and hurtign somone by passing the photos does hurt somone so thats where laws should get involve. An angry dumped person or somone saying my GF is hot is not a perverted sex offender kiddy abuser. More angry jerk or vengeful heart broken person.

So that needs to be taken into account as different to clear peado abusers.

So heres what you do... you from the age of 5 as done in europe constantly teach sex and realtionhip education to your kids, get open and talkative about it, you explain how human sexaulity works, why females show body when fertile, why guys like cars and risk takign comparign to any wildlife programs etc. You point out what they will want to do when older and whats natural.

Then you poit out tht all females have the same bits so if some jerk or bully says they will pass around your photos unless you do AA, B or C or to be nasty you point out parents wont be ashamed, but will side with you gettign your own back on them, to openly say infront of others that all girls have the same bits so whats the big deal and you all mate in similar ways, including how your mumma made you and grannie etc.

You teach kinds to attack those who have abused them, make an example out of them.

But inregards to the laws if police try and abuse you or partner, arrest you or school etc tries to abusing power and currupting the spirti of child protection laws then you put the net to use. you get all your friends, and virally all their friends etc to decend on said police , judges station courthouse and home as massive mobs to force them to back down, to take on governments 200 friends x 200 friends  = 40,000 x 200 friends = 8,000,000 get the idea keep going and you get power to shut down a country as all they could be abused too you instill terror in the authourities and get the press involved and force change so they growvel and start using their respources instead to got for real abusers like sex trafficers, mad islamicists inotn  forced marriage and fgm etc and not cowardling pickign on sexters or for that matter teacher student couples.
> 60 days ago

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