In today’s world with just about everybody using a cell phone that takes pictures, many states are rethinking sex offender laws for youth texting.
Many of these teenagers, even children as young as 12, are looking at felony child pornography charges and being listed for many years on a sex offender registry. It seems that sexting among teenagers has become the “in” thing to do. How the law handles this explosion of sending nude pictures will determine what we are teaching our children today.
Last year, Nebraska, Utah and Vermont changed their laws to reduce penalties for teenagers who engage in such activities. This year, according to the National Council on State Legislatures, 14 more states are considering legislation that would treat young people who engage in sexting differently from adult pornographers and sexual predators.
However, one district attorney recently threatened to bring child pornography charges against girls whose pictures showing them scantily dressed on classmates’ cell phones. The first federal appellate opinion in this sexting case recognized that a prosecutor had gone too far in trying to enforce adult moral standards.
In reality, young people are rarely, if ever, jailed under the child pornography laws for sexting. Some of the 14 states considering legislation would make sexting a misdemeanor, while others would treat it like juvenile offenses like truancy or running away.
Is this what we want to teach our children? Do we want to give them a slap on the wrist and tell them not to do this anymore? Or do we want our children to understand that there are consequences to their actions? Will today’s “sexting” child become tomorrow’s pedophile or rapist? No one knows for sure. What is important is to teach our children to be good citizens, obey laws and be morally and ethically upstanding.