Child pornography and child protection laws (such as Megan's Law) were created to protect children from sexual abuse in the days before sexting. Law enforcement officials and prosecutors are now stepping up to stem the tide of sexting, but are applying these laws to sexting teens in ways that were never imagined when the laws were drafted.  

A debate has emerged over whether these laws should be applied to cases of sexting. The debate is necessary, and perhaps in time, new laws will be enacted that apply directly to sexting that include appropriate punishments instead of felony charges and stigmas of teens becoming registered sexual offenders. Until then, teens caught sexting are at significant risk of being charged with serious crimes once reserved for sexual predators. Under these laws, receiving an uninvited sexual photo isn’t a crime. But, failing to delete the photo from a cell phone might well be considered to be one.  

Maintain Perspective.

Not all kids are sexting. A survey released towards the end of 2008 by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy indicated that only 20% of teens have been involved in sexting. Meanwhile, the media has ramped up coverage of sexting to the verge of hysteria. One can find some news item about it everyday. If you weren’t aware that only 1 in 5 kids have sexted, you might likely conclude that every kid with a cell phone has somehow been involved. What’s needed is a healthy dose of parental perspective that 4 in 5 kids have not been involved. Is sexting something worth addressing with your teens? Certainly. Should parents panic? Absolutely not.

Talk About Sexting with Your Kids.

Media coverage makes it easy these days to bring sexting up in conversation with your kids. Use a news item as a springboard to engage your kids in discussion. Share with your kids the dangers associated with sexting. Don’t assume that one discussion with your kids will be all they’ll need to help keep them safe. Revisit the discussion from time to time.

Include Spiritual Aspects in Your Discussions.

Use discussions about sexting to reinforce God-honoring principles of sexuality, healthy self-esteem, and respect for self and others.

Set Clear Expectations and Consequences for Sexting.  

Even after discussing the issues with you kids, there’s no way to guarantee that your daughter or son won’t ever send, receive or keep a sext. Consistent discipline is the pathway to helping your kids navigate the rough seas of adolescence into responsible adulthood. So, set sexting expectations and consequences. Expectations might include:

• No taking photos on your cell phone of anyone who is semi-nude, nude, or engaged in other inappropriate behavior.

• No sending or forwarding of a sext is allowed.

• If you receive a sext, tell mom, dad, a teacher, or other trusted adult about it.

• If you receive a sext, delete it.

• No harassing or bullying of other kids who have been involved in sexting is allowed.

Consider Purchasing Your Child a Cell Phone Without a Camera, or the Ability to Receive Digital Photos.

There are still new cell phones on the market today that can serve a teen’s need for phone and texting, but don’t include digital cameras. You know your child well enough to answer the question, “Does my child really need a phone with a camera?” Purchasing a phone without a camera eliminates the risk of your child taking an inappropriate picture or video and may also eliminate the risk of receiving and viewing inappropriate pictures as well.

Don’t Hesitate to Follow Up.

If you become aware of stories (or actually see photos) that indicate inappropriate photos or videos being circulated among students, don’t assume that another adult knows and is handling the issue. Contact your school officials as soon as possible.