As your children grow into their tween and teen years, they begin expanding their social circles beyond your immediate neighborhood and their classrooms. They grow curious about the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Ask, Reddit and other social networking sites popular with teens and young adults. it’s inevitable – your daughter comes up to you and asks for your permission to set up a social networking profile. Whether she’s legally allowed by networking sites or not, you’re not sure you want her venturing into that world yet.
“I Met This Boy...”
After getting your permission and that of your partner, your daughter created a Facebook account with your supervision. As her mother, you have been conscientious about monitoring her time online, not allowing her to spend time in her room while she’s interacting with her friends. You and your partner had her hand over her Facebook password and you log into her account regularly to supervise what she has been doing. She accepted your friend requests, however reluctantly. Up until now, everything has been going smoothly and she has been following your rules, even though she’s rolled her eyes on occasion.
You and your partner learn that she has met a boy at school. You refuse her request to send a friend request to him – neither you nor your partner feel this is a good idea, since you don’t know him. Your daughter tries arguing with you and you remind her about your ground rules. You remind her that, if she tries to get you to change your mind, or if she tries defying you, you will temporarily revoke her Facebook privileges. You learn, as you browse her account, that she did send a Facebook request to this boy. He accepted it. In response, you take her Facebook privileges away for several days. Once her Facebook “grounding” ends, you allow her back on and you monitor her Facebook activities.
Mistakes Last On the Internet Forever
While you are browsing through your daughter’s account, you learn that she has sent semi-nude photos of herself to the boy she friended on Facebook. You immediately delete her Facebook account and hide your laptop in your room. When she comes home, you tell her what you did and why you deleted her account. You remind your daughter that mistakes like hers are never “deleted” on the Internet. You also find out that the boy she likes no longer talks to her. You ask her what she thinks this boy has done with the photos she sent to him and your daughter can’t answer because she doesn’t know. You and your partner begin worrying about those pictures.
She comes home from school, crying, and you find out that the semi-nude pictures she sent to that boy are now making the rounds of computer and cellphone accounts at school.
Most, if not all jurisdictions do charge the teens who were sexting and sending the inappropriate pictures around. The teens who take and send these photos of themselves frequently don’t realize that what they are doing is a crime. In some areas, sexting is a felony; in others, it is a misdemeanor. You tell your daughter what you know, then you and your partner begin doing research so you’re ready to face any consequences of your daughter’s actions.
Ken Oswalt, prosecutor in Licking County, Ohio, has handled criminal cases like these. In Oswalt’s words, teens believe that they will suffer no consequences from sexting. They don’t understand the risk to their futures or their reputations.
What actually happens to pictures like these is quite different and much more troubling than many teens realize. Even when the pictures are deleted, search engines “cache” or save them. They last forever, no matter what teens or their parents might believe.
The existence of your daughter’s pictures can haunt her well into her future – if not for the rest of her life. If a pedophile finds her pictures, they can become a part of his collection. If someone wants to do your daughter any harm, that picture is readily available to that person. On Facebook, regardless of the company’s statement that they moved photo storage to newer storage systems that delete photos within 45 days of a user requesting their deletion. However, direct photo links are still live – and public. Even if your daughter’s Facebook profile was private, those photos are publicly accessible.
Legally, your daughter may face criminal consequences from probation to being sentenced to time in a juvenile detention center. The juvenile judge may also decide to make her register as a sex offender, depending on the laws in your state. A temporary impulse can have lasting consequences for your children. They need to know this.
Concerned about sexting? Learn the basics and what you can do to help prevent the dangerous consequences with our eBook: “Understanding Sexting: Nine Things Every Parent Should Know”