Why Parents and Teens Must Know Their State’s Teen Sexting Laws

These talks are never easy, but they’re important.

It’s never been easy for parents to have an honest talk about sex with their children. And the proliferation of smartphones among teenagers has led to the rise of both “sexting,” sending and receiving text messages and images with a sexual bent, and laws against it. These laws are far more important to understand than you might think, for the health and safety of your kids.

What Are Sexting Laws?

The fundamental problem with sexting is that by its own definition it tends to fall under state laws regarding sexual violence. For example, if one teenager sends another a nude photo, it may technically be child pornography under the laws of a specific state, even if both parties are of the same age and consent to receive the photographs. The way the law is written in some jurisdictions, it may even legally fit the definition of creating and distributing child pornography.

State legislators, while acknowledging that sexting is an issue, are generally working to rewrite the law so that teenage mistakes are treated differently from human trafficking. Still, this communicates the degree of concern parents should have about the issue.

What Do Sexting Laws Cover?

While it varies from state to state, sexting laws usually differentiate between sending the text and receiving the text, and how the justice system views the situation will depend on the content of the text. Harmless flirting over text won’t fall under the law, but sexually explicit text might. Sexting laws also increasing cover so-called “revenge porn,” where intimate messages are deliberately posted in public places to harass or humiliate their subject. Intent doesn’t matter, either: A teenager attempting to cyberbully one of their classmates by posting the images on a locker would be in just as much legal trouble as someone posting them to a website.

Kids need to know you care.

How Do I Talk About Sexting?

Sexting is just one piece of a larger discussion about sexuality and appropriate behavior in both public and private spaces, online and offline. These are difficult issues in part because teens have few healthy role models for romance and intimate behavior, and because these aspects of our lives are so unique and personal to us. Some social theorists have argued that sexting has become popular because it allows teens to engage in that space with a minimum of physical and, seemingly, emotional risk, using “burner” accounts and “self-destructing” images.

There’s no one perfect approach to this topic, but with these sensitive issues it’s best to start with some common ground and why you’re concerned. The law can be one angle discussing this risk; after all, nobody wants to be in jail. But more importantly, you should lay out that you care, that you want the best for them. Your kids should know they can come to you with questions about sex and intimacy. If you have your own struggles in this area, you might help kids seek out a neutral, respected resource, such as a doctor you both trust.

Of course, not all teens will come to their parents with their questions, and if you’re concerned that your teen may be engaging in risky behavior online, WebWatcher can help. To learn more, get our risk free trial.