A young man my son’s age, 18 year old Phillip Alpert, is serving five years probation for the crime of transmitting child pornography after emailing nude photos of his former 16-year-old girlfriend to 70 people.
He is now a registered sex offender for the next 43 years. This could happen to any of our children.
According the article, “Sexting & Consequences”, from the PressDemocrat, 20 percent of teens have sent or posted nude or semi-nude photos of themselves in what has become known as “sexting”. Phones and email are being used to transmit these ‘racy’ photos — technically child porn.
Marisa Nightingale, an adviser for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, was quoted as saying, “It’s becoming a troubling trend….since the beginning of time teens have flirted with each other and pushed the envelope. But 10 to 15 years ago, it didn’t go global in 30 seconds.”
Kids didn’t get kicked off sports teams, face expulsion from school, or as many are finding out, going to jail.
As a parent of kids, tweens and teens, I know firsthand that kids make mistakes…they continue to make mistakes, and we just hope as parents that they learn from them. When I thought about Phillip, I thought about my son….and how easily this could have happened to him.
Phillip made a mistake and readily admits it. He took revenge after being taunted by his former girlfriend and decided to share the photo she sent to him. I agree with Lawrence Walters, an attorney who practices First Amendment and Internet law, and who has been following the sexing trend: “Kids shouldn’t be doing this — shouldn’t be engaging in this type of behavior. But using these harsh criminal laws for child pornography is a bit of overkill.”
The consequences of sexting are unpredictable. An Ohio teen killed herself in May after her ex-boyfriend forwarded nude photos of her; a Florida teen was jailed after forwarding a cell phone photo of his 16-year-old ex-girlfriend’s naked breast to another teen; a 15-year old Pennsylvania girl was charged with creating child pornography after sending images of herself via MySpace to a 27-year-old man.
What’s a parent to do:
- Have a candid conversation starting with the definition of sexting. Bite your cheek and dive in, get over being uncomfortable. (I talked to my kids about sexting and even included my two elementary age children…with details shared of course in age-appropriate language).
- Depending on your child, consider limitations on electronic communication.
- Set expectations with rules and consequences about what you consider appropriate online behavior.(I often say to my kids: “Talk with others the same way you would if you were sitting next to them when you have a phone in your hand or are sitting at a keyboard.”)
- Have an “open phone”, “open photo” policy. You pay the cell bill, you own the phone; let your kids know that you’d like to be able to see stored photos when requested.
Always remember, this could happen to your child. Education and communication are key to making that instance less likely.