Studies indicate minors do not see sexting as a problem

Although it is illegal for minors to send each other sexually explicit pictures, studies show many do not realize there are consequences.

Cellphone use has become a fact of life for most people in Plano, Texas, and around the country. The prevalence includes teens, according to the Pew Research Center, with surveys indicating only 12 percent of those between the ages of 13 and 17 are phoneless. Because the majority of these phones have Internet access, parents may justifiably be concerned about how their teens are using them. Recent studies indicate that many young people are sending sexually explicit messages, or sexts, to each other, which could be a significant source of trouble.

Link found between sexting and sex

There is a direct correlation between sending naked pictures and sexual activity, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports. Data gathered from a long-term research study of Texas high school students was analyzed and compared to other research to determine whether sexual behavior could be predicted by sexting behaviors. While researchers did discover a link between the two, they were unable to find evidence that sexting will lead to unsafe sexual activity.

Laws address sexting for minors

Parents may note that while sexting could, in fact, be an increasingly common mating ritual among teens rather than indicating risky behaviors, that notion does not factor in the other dangers of the messages.

Legally, the sexts of many teens are child pornography if the explicit image is of a minor, the Texas Attorney General points out. Both the sender and the receiver could be found guilty of a felony in many states. Fortunately, Texas has enacted a law that reduces the penalty to a misdemeanor for minors who face criminal charges.

This does not eliminate consequences for the teens, or in fact, for their parents. They could still face jail time and fines, particularly in the case of repeat offenders.

Lack of information a common issue

With such severe repercussions possible, some may wonder why this activity has become so common. According to researchers at Drexel University, the problem is simply that most are not aware they are doing anything illegal.

Of those who participated in the anonymous survey, 28 percent claimed to have sent sexually explicit pictures while under the age of 17, although many more sent sexts that did not include photos. When informed of the potential legal outcomes, more than half indicated that understanding this may have prevented them from sending the messages.

Parents who discover their minor children have been sending or receiving sexts should be aware that there are many factors that Texas courts consider before penalizing teens for the activity. For this reason, it may be helpful to contact a criminal defense attorney who is familiar with the state's legal system, to ensure that all relevant information is presented that may result in a less severe conclusion.