SEXTING: the sending of sexually explicit digital images, videos, text messages, or emails, usually by cell phone

There are many reasons why adolescents sext. They might be trying to impress a crush or just trying to be funny. Some willingly send nude photos of themselves to their boyfriend or girlfriend. Sometimes, they can be pressured – even blackmailed – into sending a sexual message. Regardless, adolescents who participate in sexting expose themselves to a variety of social, emotional, and legal risks.

Trust is broken when a sexual image is forwarded without the creator’s consent. And once the image is spread, it is impossible to get it back and can circulate to hundreds of people, causing damage to academic, social and employment opportunities.

When the creator consents to a sexual image being sent, law enforcement officers can become involved, producing an investigation. As a result, the adolescent may be ordered to attend educational programs or community service. In some cases, the adolescent could be charged with a serious crime at a felony or misdemeanor level.

To help prevent sexting, set rules for internet and cell phone use with your child. Discuss the consequences for breaking these rules.

Continue to keep the lines of communication open with your child so that they are not afraid to talk about sexting with you.

Discussion points

  • Discuss the consequences of taking, sending, or forwarding a sexual picture. You can get kicked off of sports teams, face humiliation, lose educational opportunities, or face an investigation—possibly being charged with pornography.
  • Never take photos of yourself that you wouldn’t want everyone – your classmates, teachers, family, friends, and employer – to see.
  • Before hitting send, remember that you can’t control where this image may travel.
  • If you forward a sexual image of someone without their consent, you are violating trust and exposing them to harm, and could possibly be facing legal consequences if an investigation occurs.
  • If anyone pressures you to send a sexual photo, don’t give in and talk to an adult you trust. Anyone who tries to get you to do something you’re not comfortable with is not trustworthy.

What to do if your child’s image has already been shared:

  • Report it to the website or apps where the image is posted. Make it clear your child is a minor and it was posted without consent.
  • Talk to school officials so they can help stop the spread of the image or any harassment that could be happening.
  • Contact the police if your child is being blackmailed, harassed, or if it involves an adult.
  • Continue to offer support. Assure them that you’ll get through this together. Consider seeking professional counseling if they need help coping.

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