Teen Sexting: What Are the Laws?

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Teenagers are budding with sexual energy. Mix that with cell phones and it can be a complicated combination. According to a JAMA Pediatrics report from last April that analyzed 39 studies of just over 110,000 under 18-year-olds (the mean age was 15.16 years, but ages ranged from 11-17 years)— it was found that roughly 15% of teenagers send sexts and 28% receive them.

It is so important to have an open line of communication with preteens and teens about the issues around revealing photos and videos (yes, videos—some teens send short sexually explicit videos to one another). Today’s TTT is all about just the facts. In a pragmatic way, try sharing with your teens and preteens what the laws are in your state—and, starting with this example case can also be helpful.

In 2015, two 16-year-olds from North Carolina were arrested and charged with multiple felony counts of sexual exploitation of a minor under the state’s child pornography laws. Their crime? The boyfriend and girlfriend sent nude photos to each other via text. They were charged as adults, faced four to ten years in prison and would have to register as sex offenders if convicted. The kids agreed to plea bargains that reduced their charges to misdemeanors. Still, a very scary situation. The teens were doing what some sexually curious boyfriends and girlfriends do—the last thing they wanted was to get in trouble and to break a law.  

North Carolina does not have any sexting laws—in fact, half of states do not have sexting laws. If the couple had been in a state with sexting laws, such as Arizona, Florida or Arkansas, they would have most likely been charged with something such as a misdemeanor and given the chance to prove their intent was not criminal. Sexting legislation is designed to deter teens from sexting with consequences including education and less severe sentences.

Below the TTT weekly questions, I’ve included part of the Cyberbullying Research Center’s chart that shows sexting laws for each state across the country. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Are you aware that it is against the law to send and receive nude pictures, even if they are from your significant other?  

  • If you were creating laws on this topic, how would you do it?

  • If you were to write a letter to a younger student, what advice would you give them about issues surrounding the taking and dissemination of revealing and suggestive photos and videos?


The chart below is from Cyberbully.org and was created, and is regularly updated, by Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., &  Justin W. Patchin, Ph.D.  co-directors of the Cyberbullying Research Center. To see more detail and description of laws go to https://cyberbullying.org/sexting-laws .

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