Smartphones add a layer to teenage flirtation that is brand new, and comes with its own risks and pitfalls.

Sexting is the use of devices or cell phones to send sexually explicit text messages and pictures to another person. A lot of people sext – it is a very harmless and consensual adult activity that has been shown to add romance to adult relationships. For our youth, however, there are so many ways sexting can be used to exploit children and teens that a lot of laws have been made to protect minors. Since these laws apply to minors sending pictures between one another, sexting carries with it a lot of risks that kids don’t understand when they hit the “send” button.

Here is a survey of some of the harshest punishments, both legal and social, that have been faced for sexting:

Felony Charges

Many states, recognizing the problems sexting causes, have enacted laws for situations where it involves minors. Some of these laws carry felony charges for having or sharing sexts of nude pictures or sexual content with minors, especially if the recipient of the sext is over 18. Many high school students turn 18 and find themselves on the wrong side of the law when it comes to their high school peers. However, even being a minor, there can be felony charges levied against someone who either sends or shares sexts involving other minors.

Sex Offender Registration

Whether a state has specific sexting laws or not, many require the convicted to register as sex offenders. This means that they are added to a registry accessible to the public and that their name will be on it for a long period of time, especially of they are over the age of majority. Often, the terms for registration are 20 years. Another condition of registration means the convicted cannot live in certain areas close to schools or other childcare facilities. The consequences of sexting sometimes do not go away until well into a teen’s adult life.


The fines associated with sexting are often in the thousands of dollars. This can be even higher depending on the severity of the sext. This can create a financial burden for the entire family, not just the teen. Sometimes the stigma is so strong that families have to relocate, adding to the costs. Another common sentence for sexting is community service. The hours spent doing that take away from study time as well as time working off those fines. A conviction for sexting does not go away overnight, even for minors.

Ruin of Future

When teens are convicted of crimes involving sexting, the conviction appears in many areas of their lives. This includes areas that may affect sports, college, and even getting a job. The reputations of both victims and perpetrators can be permanently ruined, especially in cases that have had media exposure. Many colleges and jobs also look at social media and the internet to tell them about perspective candidates. Being well-known for sexting is not desirable for life after high school.

Embarrassment and Bullying

Often the revelation that someone was caught sexting is amplified by ridicule and bullying from peers. In some cases it continues long after the picture was taken. Sometimes pictures can resurface after years. One of the most common reasons sexts get shared is for revenge. “Revenge porn” usually occurs when a couple has a messy breakup, and one of them shares a sext in order to humiliate the other. When the intent is to humiliate the victim, the perpetrators often call extra attention to the sexts somehow, such as sharing them on social media.

Child Pornography Laws

States that do not have sexting laws usually defer to child pornography laws in cases involving sexting, and this can produce some tragic and contradictory results. In a meta study of many different cases of sexting and the law, often the perpetrators find themselves afoul of child pornography laws. This carry steeper sentences for the perpetrators involved, even though often these criminals are merely teens sexting.

It Will Always Be Out There

Deleting something you post doesn’t mean it is deleted from the internet, even something like a Snapchat picture. Pictures stay stored on the internet indefinitely. Other people might download the picture, or even take screenshots of it on a cell phone. Some people have been known to take pictures of cell phones with another cell phone to preserve pictures. This opens these pictures to being viewed by predators. Pedofiles can find these pictures, and so can other malicious actors, such as human traffickers and other exploiters.

Mental Illness and Suicide

Everyone involved in sexting can be subject to stress, humiliation, financial calamity, and even criminal charges. All of these can cause mental illness. Most often it is the victim who suffers the most. Many victims enduring shaming and bullying as a result of having nude pictures, spread, and sometimes this can lead to tragic conclusions.

Even Victims Can Be Charged

This case in Minnesota illustrates a terrifying circumstance for teens who send sexts, especially nude pictures. The picture was sent voluntarily to another minor, who then shared it with others. Under the child pornography laws, she was charged with a crime because the picture originated from her. The case was dismissed, but the emotional anguish, financial strain, embarrassment and publicity still linger.

Teens Can Be Charged With Having Porn of Themselves

The most harsh thing about sexting is that there have been situations where perfectly consenting minors have found themselves afoul of the law both as senders and as recipients of nude pictures. In this North Carolina case, a couple took a nude photo together while minors. After passing the age of majority, the picture was found and both students found themselves facing child pornography charges. Neither of them distributed the picture. Each of them was charged with having explicit pictures of both one another and of themselves.

All of these provide excellent reasons to talk with your teens about the dangers of sexting. Just like other teenage sexual banter, it is something they are going to be exposed to and is becoming more and more a normal part of flirting and courtship. However, since there is so much potential for abuse and exploitation of minors through sexting, something had to be done. The law took action, and you can do your part by teaching your teen to use the internet safely.

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