Children & Inappropriate Electronic Images

By Jeff Bathurst
Director – SC&H Group Technology and Advisory Services

Board of Directors – No More Stolen Childhoods


Inevitably, if your child has a mobile device or is on the Internet, they will probably have some interaction with sexually inappropriate electronic images. The Cyberbully Research Center collected (unpublished) data in April 2019 from a national sample of nearly 5,000 youth between the ages of 12 and 17. They found that 14% had sent and 23% had received sexually explicit images. These figures represent an increase of 13% for sending and 22% for receiving from what they previously found in 2016.   These images can be distributed via text messages (sexting), open and anonymous chat/video rooms and mobile applications like Discord and Omegle, some social media applications like Snapchat, or directly from one mobile device to another.

What to do before you find out that your child has sent or received an explicit image?

  1. Discuss the matter as a family. It is important to ensure everyone in the household is aligned regarding how to handle such incidents when they occur.
  2. Ensure your child tells parent/care provider/trusted adult. This is a serious matter, and it requires a calm, supportive conversation.
  3. Help them understand that once something is “on the Internet,” it’s permanent, no matter what anyone says to the contrary.

What to do if your child receives an explicit image?

  1. Again, this is a serious matter, and it requires a calm, supportive conversation! Remember, your child may/may not have asked for this photo.
  2. If your child has received any nude pictures on their phones, have them delete the photos. Your family does not want to run the risk of having what could be deemed “child pornography” on any of its devices.
  3. Do not re-send/forward the picture to anyone. You can get it as much trouble, if not more, by doing so.
  4. If your child knows who sent the content, and you are comfortable reaching out to that family, address the issue with that child and their parents/care providers.
  5. Some experts advise that you report the photo to your local police. In some states, teachers and other school staff are required by law to report sexting photos to law enforcement.
  6. If malice or criminal intent or an adult is involved, you may want to get some legal advice. As child-pornography charges could be filed against anyone involved.

What to do if your child sent an image to someone else?

  1. Talk about the situation with your child. It will be uncomfortable, but this is a serious event.  Again, help them understand that once something is “on the Internet,” it’s permanent, no matter what anyone says to the contrary.
  2. Avoid shaming your child, instead teach and discuss with them the importance of self-respect, self-worth, and how sending such images does not support a healthy sense of self. Discuss the psychological impacts…what does the situation say about how the child sees and feels about themselves.
  3. Discuss the legal consequences of their action. Each state has its own laws regarding child pornography and the exploitation of minors. Sending an inappropriate image of a minor, even if it’s one teenager sending it to another teenager (sexting), regardless of gender, is a crime in many states. The laws are created to protect minors from sexual predators, but sometimes, they can affect two under-age people sexting consensually. “Federally, it is ‘illegal to produce, distribute, receive, or possess with intent to distribute any obscene visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct.’ That means, if you are under 18 and you are sending or receiving a sexual picture, you are violating the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) Act of 2003.
  4. Explain the long-term consequences of these action; legal, social, familial. It takes a long time to build a good reputation and one inappropriate photo to ruin it.  Family, friends, and classmates’ view of your teenager would change and potential legal ramifications may result that will follow your teen throughout high school and college.

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