Sexting & Child Pornography: What Parents & Teens Need to Know

December 31, 2020
child on phone

It’s hard enough for most parents to talk to their kids about sex. Throw technology into the birds and bees mix and most parents have no idea where or when to begin. But indeed, parents must talk to their kids not only about sex, but also sexting and child pornography. It might sound uncomfortable, but we’ve seen the fallout when these talks don’t happen.     

Imagine the phone ringing while you are busy at work. It’s the school principal calling to inform you that your child is being suspended – and potentially expelled – for possession of child pornography. Gasp! You respond, “What do you mean child pornography? My child does not cruise the internet watching child pornography. I have no idea what you are talking about.” After some silence, the principal tells you that your child has been exchanging naked pictures with a classmate. As the oxygen leaves the room, you are truly confused. While this is happening, you are told that the school has notified law enforcement to question your child. Real panic sets in. 

Sexting is More Common Than You Might Think 

Just as panic sets in the actual scenario from our cases, most parents also feel some initial sense of denial. Most parents think their son or daughter wouldn’t take nude photos, let alone share them with classmates. These parents are likely in for a rude awakening. According to JAMA Pediatrics from the Journal of the American Medical Association, one in four kids report having received sexts and one in seven reported sending sexts. Odds are that at some point in time, your children may partake in sexting.      

But why the mention of child pornography? Only deviant child predators get mixed up in child pornography, right? Not so. Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an article explaining why sexting is a crime. Under federal and state law, child pornography crimes are based on the age of the person depicted. The age of the person downloading, receiving or sharing the image is irrelevant. In practical terms, when your child shares a nude picture of a classmate, the picture of the classmate is illegal.  

For years now, we have been talking to parents about the dangers of sexting and how to have a contemporary discussion about sex with teens. We’re passionate about this issue because we’ve represented far too many students in school expulsion hearings and the parallel juvenile court proceedings for issues involving sexting. We’ve read too many police reports and watched too many police body camera videos recorded at schools when police have arrived to interview kids about a report set in motion by a teacher who overheard students talking about naked pictures of classmates. In every case we’ve handled, we have met with a teary-eyed teen and his or her parents who say iterations of the same thing: “I can’t believe it.  I had no idea sexting is a crime.” No matter how you shake it, the exchange of naked pictures can lead to a school expulsion and criminal charge.   

6 Simple Tips To Share With Your Teens: 

Here is what teens (and parents) need know:  

  1. A nude photo of anyone under the age of 18 is probably illegal. 
  2. Once a photo is taken and shared, you lose control of the photo and it can exist on the internet forever.   
  3. Any conversation with school administrators can be shared with the police. 
  4. If you receive a nude photo of someone under 18, delete it right away.  
  5. Ischool administrators or police ask for your phone’s password, you don’t have to provide it.  
  6. If school administrators or police ask you about viewing or sharing nude photos, immediately explain that you don’t want to answer questions without your parents present.  (Parents – don’t let your child be questioned without a lawyer.) 

If you have questions or would like to discuss further, please reach out to Student & Athlete Defense attorneys Susan Stone (; 216.736.7220) or Kristina Supler (; 216.736.7217).