The digital space that your teenager lives in may seem like a different world. What are they doing on their phones all day?
Memes, “finstas,” and social media sites may feel too confusing to explore – but it’s important to have a talk with your teens about their online communication. One trend in particular could land your teenager heavy fines… and a rather embarrassing criminal record.
We’re talking, of course, about sexting.
What Is Sexting?
“Sexting” is a term that combines “sex” and “texting.” It involves sending sexually charged messages back and forth as well as – sometimes – nude or sexually suggestive photos.
It’s these photos that can get your teens in big trouble. After all, if a minor teenager is sending or receiving nude photos, they are technically participating in child pornography.
Penalties for Sexting in Texas
Thankfully, most Texas teens won’t face child pornography charges or a lifetime spot on the sex offender registry if they are convicted of sending “sexts.” In fact, our state has specific laws that penalize teenagers who send or receive sexually explicit images of other teens.
Importantly, this charge can apply even if they send an image of themselves. Consensual or not, it is a class C misdemeanor for minors to send or receive sexts from minors. Penalties for this charge include up to $500 in fines and an awkward criminal record to explain to future employers.
Of course, sexts don’t always stay between teenagers who are flirting or looking to spice up their relationship. Teenagers who send sexts with the intention of cyberbullying or harassing a classmate or ex will face class B misdemeanor charges. Penalties include up to $2,000 in fines.
If your teenager is charged with sending or receiving sexually explicit images, reach out to a criminal defense lawyer that has experience handling juvenile crimes. Texas deals with crimes committed by minors in a separate court.
While it is unlikely that your teenager will face jail time for sending “nudes,” an attorney could help them avoid additional penalties and potentially even help get the charges dropped so that your child can walk away with an embarrassing story and nothing else.
When Adults and Minors Exchange Sexts in Texas
If the sext gets in the hand of an adult, penalties are more severe. Adults may be prosecuted with state or federal felony charges for receiving or sending sexually explicit images of a minor. These are technically child pornography charges.
Penalties will vary, but can include up to 20 years behind bars. Offenders may also end up on the Texas sex offender registry, and face restrictions on where they can live and work.
Remember, “adults” include people who are 18 or 19. Just because a student is still in high school at the age of 18 does not excuse them from the responsibilities and penalties that come with being an adult.
Texas Parents, Talk to Your Teenager About Sexting
As awkward as a conversation about sexting can be, it is important to have one with your teenager. Sexting can easily get out of hand and come back to haunt them after a relationship has ended. Once a picture is out there, it can’t be easily removed.
Talk to them about the legal consequences of sexting as well as what could happen if sexts get into the wrong hands. A criminal record can follow teenagers as they try and get a job or get into college. Prevent these obstacles with an open conversation about the dangers of sexting and other related crimes.
About the Author:
After getting his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston Law Center, Jeff Hampton began practicing criminal law in Texas in 2005. Before becoming a defense attorney, he worked as a prosecutor for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – experience he uses to anticipate and cast doubt on the arguments that will be used against his clients. Over the course of his career, he has helped countless Texans protect their rights and get the best possible outcome in their criminal cases. His skill has earned him recognition from the National Trial Lawyers (Top 100 Trial Lawyers) and Avvo (Top Attorney in Criminal Defense, Top Attorney in DUI & DWI, 10/10 Superb Rating), and he is Lead Counsel rated.