Parents go to great lengths to protect their children. They buy the best-rated car seat, make sure they have the right SPF sunblock, and try to get the best care they can when their children are sick. Yet, there is one way parents can help protect their children that they either may not expect, may not think is necessary, or may find too uncomfortable: by talking to their kids about “sexting.” Sexting has become incredibly common among preteens and teenagers, even after the news stories of famous athletes, politicians, and actors having their private pictures exposed. The explosion in the popularity of sexting has been bolstered by mobile apps such as Snapchat, What’s App, Kik, and other new messaging software that can automatically delete the explicit image (though these are not foolproof systems). The widespread popularity of sexting is a problem for multiple reasons.
First, if your child is under the age of 18, they cannot consent to sending explicit photographs of themselves, even if they would legally be allowed to have sex with the person they are sending the photos to. Second, even if your child trusts the person they are sharing explicit photographs with, there is always the possibility that the photos will be shared either intentionally or by accident. Once images are published on the internet it can be next to impossible to have them removed (though there are some options).
Lastly, under many state’s laws, your child may be unknowingly sending and/or receiving child pornography or “sexually explicit digital material” (depending on whether one or both parties are minors at the time). This is true even if both parties consent to the photos being shared and even if neither party shares the pictures with others. Sexting is a class A misdemeanor and, as such, can carry a sentence of up to one year. Although it is unlikely a sentence of a full year would be given without some extreme circumstances, this is still not something to ignore.
What you can do to protect your child:
As a parent, the best thing you can do is talk to your children about the dangers of sharing explicit photos. If you suspect your child may have already sent or received such images, advise your child to thoroughly delete the image. Some states, including Arkansas, consider deleting a sexually explicit photo, along with other factors, to be a defense to the crime of possessing sexually explicit digital material. Lastly, if your child has been charged with sending or receiving sexually explicit digital material, contact an attorney to guide you through the process. Even if your child plans to plead guilty, it is important to at least consult with an attorney to insure you are making the best decision for your child.