Talking About “Sexting”

Students Texting - Talking About "Sexting"
Kids may “sext” to show off or prove their love. How to discuss the consequences.
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Caroline Knorr
Common Sense Media Parenting Editor | Mom of One

Sexting among teens is, unfortunately, pretty common. Many parents are shocked to hear how casually teens discuss how prevalent it is. And, while experts differ on statistics, a 2009 study conducted by Pew Internet & American Life Project confirms sexting is a teen reality that’s here to stay. Why do they do it? To show off, to entice someone, to show interest in someone, or to prove commitment. Or even as a joke. Teens’ developing interest in sex, an impulse to experiment, and apps that make sexting easy — and acceptable — create an environment that some teens find irresistible.

Sending these pictures or messages is problematic enough, but the real challenge comes when this content is shared broadly. As far too many teens have found out, the recipient of these messages is in possession of a highly compromising image or message that can be easily posted on a social networking site or sent to others via email or text.

In a technology world where anything can be copied, sent, posted, and seen by huge audiences, there’s no such thing as being able to control information. The intention doesn’t matter — even if a photo was taken and sent as a token of love, for example, the technology makes it possible for everyone to see your child’s most intimate self. In the hands of teens, when revealing photos are made public, the sexter almost always ends up feeling humiliated. Furthermore, sending sexual images to minors is against the law, and some states have begun prosecuting kids for child pornography or felony obscenity.

There have been some high profile cases of sexting. In 2015, a Colorado high school was rocked by a sexting scandal involving hundreds of students. In 2009, Cincinnati teen Jesse Logan committed suicide after a nude photo she’d sent to a boyfriend was circulated widely around her high school, resulting in harassment from her classmates.

Fortunately, networks with large teen audiences — MTV, for example — are using their platforms to warn teens against the dangers of sexting. And the website uses teen-speak to help resist cyber peer pressure. Hopefully, these messages will get through.

Advice for parents

  • Don’t wait for an incident to happen to your child or your child’s friend before you talk about the consequences of sexting. Sure, talking about sex or dating with teens can be uncomfortable, but it’s better to have the talk before something happens.
  • Remind your kids that once an image is sent, it can never be retrieved — and they will lose control of it. Ask teens how they would feel if their teachers, parents, or the entire school saw the picture, because that happens all the time.
  • Talk about pressures to send revealing photos. A study by Michigan State University found that many teens are sexually harassed online by their peers. Let teens know that you understand how they can be pushed or dared into sending something. Tell them that no matter how big the social pressure is, the potential social humiliation can be hundreds of times worse.
  • Teach your children that the buck stops with them. If someone sends them a photo, they should delete it immediately. It’s better to be part of the solution than the problem.
  • Check out Common Sense Education’s Sexting Handbook. This resource gives families the language and support to take texting and cell phone power back into their own hands. It’s also a great resource for parents who are uncomfortable dealing directly with this issue.

CarolineKnorrAbout Caroline Knorr

As Common Sense Media’s parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids’ media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you’re wondering “what’s the right age for…?”… Read More.

See all posts by Caroline Knorr here.

This post was originally posted by Common Sense Media on 2/5/16.

Common Sense MediaAbout Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media is dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology. We exist because our kids are growing up in a culture that profoundly impacts their physical, social, and emotional well-being. We provide families with the advice and media reviews they need in order to make the best choices for their children. Through our education programs and policy efforts, Common Sense Media empowers parents, educators, and young people to become knowledgeable and responsible digital citizens. For more information, visit us at

0 Comments on “Talking About “Sexting””

  1. Every action has a consequence and kids need to understand that fact of life.I’m so glad that the internet and social media weren’t around when my kids were growing up.It certainly muct be scary for parents with young kids!

    1. Yes, social media sure presents a new set of challenges for parents! But there are also lots of positive effects of it too! As with everything, it’s just important that parents stay involved in their kids’ lives. Thanks for the comment, Kathy!

  2. I’m so glad that the internet and social media weren’t around when I was a teenager. I doubt I would have done this but I know a few girls that I think would have. Peer pressure is bad enough when you are a teen and then you add in iPhones and the internet and sometimes it’s a recipe for disaster.

    1. Yes, that’s true. Peer pressure is a really tough thing for teens to deal with. What’s important is that, as parents, we talk to our kids about the consequences of their actions. Like this post says, once you’ve sent a picture or a text, you are no longer in control of it.

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