Close-up of smartphone used by blonde teenage girl in plaid shirt

What Every Parent Needs to Know About Sexting

Modern technology is a powerful tool. It opens doors in business, communication, education, recreation, and many other things.

Unfortunately, the law struggles to keep pace with the advances in tech. Tech’s capabilities open doors to curious teenagers never available to them before. Child pornography regulations, written well before texting and (its illicit relative) sexting were even contemplated, can now penalize teenagers for receiving and viewing explicit images from their peers.

As a parent, it’s important to make sure you have a clear idea of your child’s online/smartphone activities, especially when your child is a teenager. While it can be uncomfortable to discuss topics like sexting and pornography with your son or daughter, they must understand the dire consequences a misstep online can bring about for the rest of their lives.

When Can Sexting Constitute a Crime?

Smartphones make it incredibly easy for teenagers to both take explicit photos and send them to other teenagers. While teens might not think any more about these activities beyond their desire to get attention, these photos can be considered child pornography under the law. This means sexting teenagers who receive and view these images can be charged with dissemination and possession of child pornography, and in some cases, they can also be charged with exploitation of a minor―i.e., themselves.

Sometimes prosecutors look for an additional offense (such as harassment, stalking, assault, etc.) to justify bringing charges against a young person for sexting, but this is not always the case. The law does not require the prosecutor to find this additional offense in order to bring charges related only to sexting.

While sexting in the mind of a teenager might seem like a harmless activity, law enforcement typically does not have that attitude. Criminal penalties can be harsh—including felony convictions and the duty to register as a sex offender.

How Do I Talk to My Child About Sexting?

This topic can be a difficult one to discuss with your son or daughter, but nevertheless, it is crucial they know the heavy consequences underage sexting can carry. Most children are too immature (especially when it comes to sex) to understand how a single explicit photograph taken with a smartphone could damage the futures of both the sender and the receiver.

Young people should know that anything sent over the internet or through a smartphone is never truly private or anonymous. A compromising image may lead to embarrassment, harassment, unfortunate implications for future college and job applications, and in the worst case, prosecution and jail time. What seems thrilling and rebellious in the moment can lead to years of serious and damaging consequences, sometimes well into adulthood.

Ultimately, you know your child best and can decide what message he or she most needs to hear in order to be safe online and over text. If your child doesn’t have a smartphone yet, make sure you have this conversation before he or she gets a phone.

If your child already has a phone, make sure he or she knows that using the phone is not an irrevocable right and that you as a parent are entitled to step in and check on your child’s internet use and texting conversations. The more open, honest, and transparent you are with your kids about appropriate smartphone use, the more likely they are to develop safe and healthy habits with technology.

Should your teenager make a misstep with technology despite your best efforts and need legal assistance, The Marshall Defense Firm is ready to handle juvenile sexting cases with compassion and experience. We understand that young people sometimes make mistakes, but shouldn’t spend the rest of their lives paying for them. If your son or daughter needs our help, please contact us at 206.826.1400 or

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