Cyberbullying and Sexting Laws: A Parent’s Guide

Summary:

  • Cyberbullying and sexting have become rampant with the adoption of smartphones. Continue reading to see the alarming statistics.
  • Laws regarding cyberbullying and sexting vary by state, so it’s important to look them up and discuss them with your child.
  • There are many preventable examples of children’s lives being ruined due to reckless behavior which you can read about below.
  • In addition to communicating with children, we highly recommend parents use tools to be alert about any potential risks faced by their children.
  • As of June 2021, MMGuardian has alerted parents 2,779,986 times about inappropriate sent/received/saved pictures on their child’s phone.

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Cyberbullying and sexting could leave you and your kids devastated. In this article, we will talk about varied laws related to cyberbullying and sexting. We will also explore how ignoring these laws could land parents and children in trouble.

What is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is an act of humiliating a person emotionally using technology. This means that any act of sending harassing and cruel text messages, posting embarrassing information, and making vile comments online is a form of cyberbullying. To read more about cyberbullying, check out our other blog article.

Quite contrary to traditional bullying, cyberbullying is more intense and dangerous. This is because bullies can follow their targets even when the school day or workday has ended, and even when the targets are at their homes.

Here is what is considered cyberbullying:

  • Threatening to kill someone
  • Harassing someone online by demeaning, humiliating, and shaming them
  • Texting inappropriate content
  • Issuing threats to physically harm someone
  • Stalking someone digitally
  • Extorting someone sexually
  • Sending sexual photos and videos
  • Committing hate crimes
  • Capturing someone’s photos when they expect privacy (like when they are in bathrooms or locker rooms)

Is Cyberbullying a Crime?

There were no strict laws in place related to cyberbullying up to the mid-2000s. However, the ever-rising number of related incidents (for instance, school shootings and suicides) has captured the attention of legislators.

The result? Various laws related to cyberbullying have sprung up in some states. Although cyberbullying is often treated as a civil matter rather than being a criminal matter, various prosecutors have used the existing laws to prosecute people suspected of cyberbullying.

Numerous individuals are charged with criminal harassment statutes, and in case of more serious issues like the ones which led to suicide and other tragic repercussions, more serious criminal charges have been brought up.

Several recently introduced cyber harassment statutes have also provided a base for charging online bullies in some states. Cyberbullying forms a part of broader bullying laws (PDF) of more than half of the US states, while various other states have included electronic harassment and cyberbullying in their laws as well.

teen tween child sexting cyberbullying laws parents should know

Popular State Cyberbullying Laws

Cyberbullying is growing with each passing day, so much so that 34% of US kids have experienced cyberbullying at least once. Keeping this in mind, most states have come up with school sanctions and criminal penalties for electronic harassment and cyberbullying.

However, it is important to mention here that only a few states have school sanctions for cyberbullying incidents that were committed off-campus.

  • Florida

According to the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act, bullying of any K-12 student or staff member is prohibited by law. The law, however, doesn’t instruct criminal sanctions for such acts and directs school authorities to draft related policies and report the instances of bullying.

  • California

California’s Safe Place to Learn Act focuses on the inherent right of a student to attend classes in school that are safe and peaceful. If electronic communication is used as a means to cause fear for life, it will be treated as a misdemeanor and can attract punishments of up to one year in jail or a fine of up to $1,000.

  • Missouri

Missouri defines cyberbullying as bullying through the transmission of communication like text, message, sound, or image through an electronic device. The laws require school employees to report any cases related to bullying.

If an individual is found to be using social media to harass a person and is found to be giving violent threats, they will be charged with harassment, a Class A misdemeanor. But this will likely become a Class D felony if the defendant is 21 years of age or older and the victim is 17 years of age or younger, or if the defendant has a past record related to harassment conviction.

We highly recommend educating yourself and your child on your states cyberbullying laws. No parent wants their child to have a dumb action taken when they’re a teenager follow them around for the rest of their lives, and the knowledge could also be used as a defense mechanism. Bullies like easy victims and there’s nothing easy about a victim that threatens legal repercussions!

What is Sexting?

Sexting is an act of texting sexual images. Sexting has become increasingly popular in the US. According to Reuters, more than 25 percent of teens say that they have received a sext and around 15 percent of them say that they have sent a sext. The act of sexting is becoming more popular as an increasing number of teens are getting easy access to smartphones.

A recent study conducted on 6,021 high school students revealed that 29 percent of kids were engaged in consensual sexting. It is important to mention here that underage sexting is considered as child pornography in 23 US states, and could land the person in a 20-year prison term.

teen tween child sexting cyberbullying laws parents should know

Sexting Laws

Various states in the US have framed sexting laws targeting the exchange of images between teenagers. Connecticut’s sexting law, for instance, targets teens (the ones between 13 and 17 years) who transmit or possess obscene or nude photos.

The law also distinguishes based on the age of the sender and recipient. For instance, it penalizes senders who are between the ages of 13 and 15 and who send obscene pictures of themselves, and recipients between the ages of 13 and 17 who receive such images.

However, state sexting laws vary from one state to another. For example, Louisiana prohibits anyone who is less than 17 years old from sending and keeping explicit images. On the other hand, Texas considers it as exception if two minors sext among themselves and if the two are dating and the age difference between the two is not more than 2 years.

Legal Consequences of Sexting

More often than not, kids don’t realize that sexting their girlfriend or boyfriend is a harmful act which violates sexting laws. Sexting and engaging in similar activities could lead to serious legal implications.

Here is what every kid plus their parents must know about:

  • Both the kids involved in the act could be charged

Both the parties involved in the act could be charged. This means that both the kids who send and received the sexual photos could face punishment for distributing child pornography, depending on the laws in your state. There are plenty of examples of this happening already such as this girl in Maryland who was charged with distributing child pornography for sharing a video of herself with her friends (which eventually made the rounds when their friend group had a falling out).

The one who received the photos may also be charged with receiving child pornography. Further, if they choose to send these photos to their friends, they may further face the charges related to distributing child pornography as well.

The solution? If your kid happens to receive a nude or sexually-suggestive photo, they should delete it straight away. This is because keeping it on their electronic device could make them face criminal charges. Obviously children should never distribute any pictures or videos that could be considered pornography or they could face charges that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

  • Might get registered as a sex offender

In addition to facing possible jail time and probation if found guilty for promoting child pornography, the involved teens could also face the risk of getting registered as a sex offender. This tag is troublesome which would impact the rest of their lives, particularly because of the stigmas attached.

This recently happened in July of 2019 to a 15 year old boy in Colorado who has been ordered by the courts to register as a sex offender after exchanging selfies with girls his age.

  • Parents might also face serious consequences

It is important to mention here that parents could also face charges if they know that their kid is sexting and they decide to do nothing to end it. The parents might also have to face a civil suit if the parents of the victim pursued legal action.

  • Risk of being removed from home

If parents knew about sexting and did nothing, they may also be subject to an investigation by Child Protective Services. What’s even worse is the fact that the involved child might be removed from the home and accommodated in foster care.

Protecting Your Child

The bottom line? You, as a parent, must do your best to prevent your kid from sexting and cyberbullying. This includes looking up the specific cyberbullying and sexting laws in your state and educating your child on them, including the possible long-term ramifications they could face.

Parents should also make use of technology such as MMGuardian to help keep their child safe. MMGuardian is a parental control app that uses artificial intelligence to alert parents about signs of sexting, bullying, and inappropriate pictures in addition to other concerning topics such as drugs and suicidal thoughts. MMGuardian also provides an expansive list of other features such time limits, reports on SMS texts and messages in select social media apps including Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram, contact blocking, web filtering, location, and much more.

To get started with MMGuardian and receive a 14-day free trial, click here.

Consider also joining our Facebook group “Tech-Savvy Parenting” to discuss raising kids in the 21st century with other parents.

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