By Elizabeth Milovidov, PhD

How to deal with teens and sexting

Once again, I’m feeling nostalgic for the days when we crammed into a photo booth and took silly photos or pulled out a Polaroid to get wild.  Yep, those days are long gone.

Today teens (and sometimes even younger children) are using their smartphones with integrated cameras in ways that would make parents cringe.  So get ready, for the cringe factor as I fill you in on teens and sexting – and the consequences.  And a quick alert, sexting is not a new phenomenon; it has existed for several years years now.

Teens and sexting

Sexting is the sending of sexually explicit photos, videos or text messages through mobile phones.

Teens are sharing sexually risqué photos and/or messages online and often times using apps like Snapchat, VaporChat, Cyber Dust to hide their behaviour. (Those apps cause the photos to “disappear” after a certain period of time, but they do not preclude screenshots from capturing the photo.)

Amazingly, teens are sexting even though they “openly admit that they know it’s wrong to post these sexual photos. They feel the odds of getting caught are so low that they are willing to run the risk.” (Read this article from Psychology Today for interesting facts and statistics about teens and sexting.)

Consequences of sexting

The consequences of sexting range from public humiliation and embarrassment if the photos get out, to criminal charges for texting the images and possible registration as a child sex offender.

The majority of teens also have no clue that sending nude photos via text could be considered child pornography and that minors have been prosecuted under child pornography statutes for producing or sending images of themselves or other minors.

Sexting checklist:

  1. Talk to your teens about the consequences of sexting while explaining what are inappropriate uses of technology. You remember this was the same talk that your parents gave you about hanky-panky, but now you’re extending it to an online environment.
  2. Make sure that your teen understands the permanency of the Internet. Once an inappropriate photo or text message is out there, it is virtually impossible to get it back. (Yes you can contact Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites and they will remove the offending material – but the removal is not instantaneous and someone could already have taken a screenshot of the offending material.)
  3. As always, keep communicating with your teen. Share and exchange about what is happening in their lives.
  4. Remind your teen of his or her self-worth.  You may get some eye-rolling, but keep at it. Our teens need to know that they ARE valuable and worthy.
  5. If your child’s school has sex education classes, make sure that sexting and selfies are on the curriculum. (As well as all other sex-related inappropriate online activities.)

Have you found a strategy that worked with your teen regarding sexting? If you have, please share it in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.

teens and sexting
Elizabeth Milovidov

Dr Elizabeth Milovidov is an eSafety Consultant at European Schoolnet, a European consortium of 30 Education Ministries. She provides support on the ENABLE project (European Network Against Bullying in Learning and Leisure Environments) and other projects aimed at protecting children online. She is a lawyer and law professor, and regularly intervenes as an independent expert on Children’s Rights and the Internet for the Council of Europe.


Last Updated on January 25, 2023 by Editorial Staff

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