The story this week of two North Jersey teens who are embroiled in the aftermath of a sexting scandal is the latest example of how serious the fallout from improper phone use by teens can be.
A West Orange boy, 16-years-old, allegedly texted nude pictures of his ex girlfriend, a 17-year-old from Woodland Park, to another 16-year-old girl. The second girl then allegedly shared the pictures with friends and may have posted them online. Both of the 16-year-olds have been charged with distributing child pornography and endangering the welfare of a child, and more charges are expected.
It is interesting that this case is happening in New Jersey. In January of this year a law went into effect that will shield minors convicted of sexting offenses from being put on the Sexual Predator Registry, previously one of the most damaging results of such a conviction. Even short of that, a child pornography conviction will have a devastating impact on the future of these teens.
As lawmakers and parents deal with the fallout from sexting and revenge porn cases, a number of questions need to be answered:
For lawmakers – Should photos or video willingly shared between two teens be considered child pornography? If the photos are taken willingly, should the subject be protected to the same extent as would be the case for photos that were stolen or otherwise obtained without consent? Is a minor who voluntarily shares nude photos guilty of anything?
A number of states are in the process of crafting revenge porn legislation, but even some states who already have legislation in place are being criticized for its shortcomings. There have been reports recently that there may be a Federal revenge porn law introduced as soon as this month.
For parents – Is there any way to stop teens from sexting? Is it possible to know whether your teen has already been sexting?
Unless you want to take your teen’s phone away, the answer to the first question above for parents is communication. Explaining the risk by showing them a copy of the story linked above about the West Orange teens would be a good start. On the second question, if the sexting is happening one on one, there is no way for you to know unless you know the password for your teen’s phone, and even then he or she might be diligent about hiding it.
We would never blame the victim, but it bears mentioning that if the victim in the West Orange story had never sent the photos, or allowed them to be taken, in the first place, none of this would have happened. For parents of younger kids, you need to start early and be proactive about the communication - don’t wait until there is a serious boyfriend or girlfriend in the picture. Ensuring your teen is aware of the risks well before having the first impulse to send a racy picture is the best preparation.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.