Tips to help Virginia parents talk to their teens about sexting

It is critical for parents to warn their teens early on about the social and legal consequences of sexting and encourage practices that reduce these risks.

Sexting, or the transmission of sexually explicit content via text, has become a common behavior among teenagers and a cause for concern for many parents in Warrenton. According to a study from Drexel University, more than half of underage teens admit to sexting. Given this prevalence, it is important for parents to know how to talk to their teens about sexting and its various risks.

Discuss social consequences

Parents should remind their teens that sexting can hurt their reputation or social standing, especially if the images that they send are shared with a wider audience. Teens often view sexting as private, but one recent study found that 23 percent of people who receive sexts show them to others. On average, according to WQAD News, at least three other people see one of these shared sexts.

In addition to causing teenagers emotional distress, this sharing can have lingering negative impacts. For example, compromising images that are posted online may affect a young person's likelihood of being accepted into a chosen college or hired into a competitive job. In extreme cases, teens may also face bullying or extortion as a result of sexting.

Explain the legal issues

Many teenagers may not realize that texting can also lead to serious legal consequences. Almost two out of three students in the Drexel University study were not aware of the potential penalties for sexting. Unfortunately, Virginia and many other states lack laws to specifically address sexting. This can leave teenagers vulnerable to child pornography charges, including the following:

  • Production of child pornography. Teens who create or take part in the production of sexually explicit images can face minimum periods of incarceration of one to five years, depending on the age of the subject.
  • Distribution of child pornography. People who pass on sexts to others may face between five and 20 years of imprisonment.
  • Possession of child pornography . As a Class 6 felony, this is punishable with incarceration ranging from one to five years.

Teenagers who are convicted of production or distribution of child pornography may also be required to register as sex offenders.

Encourage safer practices

Since telling teens not to sext might not be effective, parents should instead consider promoting safer practices. According to Time magazine, teens should reserve sexting for people they are intimate with and avoid the risks associated with casual sexting. To protect themselves and their peers, teens also should refrain from forwarding sexts or posting them online, as this can lead to Internet sex crime charges or distribution of pornography charges.

Start early

Finally, CNN recommends that parents take a proactive approach to broaching this subject. Many parents may question whether their children are really sexting, and they may wait until they hear about their teenagers or their friends experiencing a harmful related incident. However, early advice can help head off ill-advised decisions and unnecessary mistakes.

Seek legal help

Unfortunately, the legal penalties can be significant for minors who engage in sexting or older teenagers who receive sexts from minors. Consequently, anyone who faces criminal charges related to sexting should consult with an attorney as soon as possible about potential defenses.