Consequences and Guide for Parents
In 2008, only twenty days after his eighteenth birthday, Tim Timms distributed nude photos of his sixteen-year-old ex-girlfriend following an argument. Tim logged on to her email account and forwarded her friends and family pictures she had taken of herself for him. He was arrested and charged with distributing child pornography. The judge sentenced him to five years of probation and Tim had to register as a sex offender.
Tim’s story illustrates that communication technology has created real life and legal consequences because teens are being prosecuted for sexting under child pornography statues. Some of the consequences include registering as a sex offender, jail time, emotional disturbance, loss of employment, and denial into higher education programs. In 2010, Louisiana enacted a sexting law. The intent was to protect children from prosecution under child porn statutes; however, similar effects still occur. The creation of a sexting statute for minors, with the intent being to protect them, still has troubling results.
Louisiana R.S.Section14:81.1.1, transmitting an indecent image from one minor to another, is technically not a delinquent act for which a minor could be adjudicated because it is a law for a someone less than seventeen years of age. Under the Louisiana Children’s Code, the offense must be one that if committed by an adult, over age eighteen, would be a crime. The sexting charge itself remains on a minor’s record for life unless expunged and is not automatic. The court record is confidential, but should the minor require a background check for school or employment, it is likely the charge will be displayed. Refer to RS 14:81.1.1 for the full text of the statute.
Many teenagers do not consider the emotional, social, or legal consequences of sexting. Talk to your teen about the potential dangers of sexting and discuss the consequences to make them aware how serious it is. Create and discuss a behavior contract and its consequences, establish cellphone rules, take away their cell phone at bedtime, monitor your teen’s electronics use, and discuss healthy relationships and how to resist peer pressure.
Advice for Parents:
- Do not wait for an incident to happen to your child or one of their friends before you have “the talk.” Sure, talking about intimacy is uncomfortable, but it is better to talk before it is too late.
- Make sure your teen understands that once an image is sent, it can never be retrieved— and they will lose control of it. Ask them to imagine how they would feel if their teachers, friends and the entire school saw the picture.
- Talk about the pressures to send revealing photos. Let them know that you are aware that they can be pressured or dared into sending a picture. Remind them that no matter how much they are pressured, the social humiliation can be much, much worse
- Teach your teen that the buck stops with them. Should someone send them a photo, they should delete it immediately. It is better to be part of the solution than the problem.
- Visit Common Sense Education (commonsense.org) for the language and support to take texting and cell phone power back into your own hands. It is a great resource for parents who are uncomfortable talking about this issue.