Teens and Sexting

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Sexting is the sending of sexual photos, videos, or messages from a cell phone or computer. The images can be of nudity or of a person fully clothed in a sexual pose. It is common among teenagers and some pre-teens. It is dangerous. Why? Those photos can spread to others in an instant. Images sent via cell phone apps live forever (despite claims that they don’t). Those images are in the hands of the social media host. Images sent by text can be passed on from one person (or large groups) to another. They can be saved as a screen shot on your phone. And they can make their way to cloud-based storage if the settings on the sender or receiver’s phone are set to cloud back up. Your child immediately loses control over those images once they send (or receive and forward) the images. They have no idea of where it will go next.

Children and teens sext for many reasons. Often, it occurs between romantic couples. It’s part of the flirting that goes on between two people. Sexting can occur between friends (to be funny or to bully). It can happen with a potential romantic couple. Sometimes, sexting is the first step in a relationship and can lead to sexual activity.

It’s important to teach your children the importance of privacy and the dangers of sexting. In some states, sexting is illegal for both the sender and receiver if the people involved are under the age of 18.

Path to improved well being

The effort to keep your child safe from sexting begins at home. Start talking with your child at a young age about keeping their bodies private. Except for a doctor visit, children should not show body parts to others in person, or in photos. Other important tips include:

  • Decide on the right age to let your child have a cell phone. Think about their age, maturity, personality, and whether you can trust them to follow cell phone rules at home and school.
  • Know the password to unlock your child’s phone.
  • Check the photos your child has stored on his or her phone.
  • Keep your child’s phone in a public space at home.
  • Learn today’s technology. Certain apps are designed for photo sharing. Other apps are designed for anonymous posts.
  • Set your child’s privacy, GPS, and internet blocking features on his or her phone. This prevents your child from sharing private information, their location, searching the internet, or downloading apps.
  • Establish rules for your child’s cell phone use.
  • Monitor your child’s contacts.
  • Look at the apps your child has on his or her phone. Delete those that are not appropriate or you did not give permission to download.
  • Teach your child to lock their phone and not to share the password with anyone but you.
  • Teach your child to tell you if he or she receives inappropriate photos, videos, or messages.
  • Tell your child never to forward inappropriate texts or respond to them, especially if they are from a stranger.
  • Finally, teach your young child not to copy the bad behavior of others. They will always be exposed to other children doing inappropriate things. As they get older, they may receive inappropriate photos or video. Just because others are doing it doesn’t make it right.
  • Talk with your child about how to handle being pressured to send an inappropriate photo. You can also practice (or role play) what to say when pressured.
  • Teach your child how to tell if a photo is inappropriate. There’s a difference between a group of girls in bikinis on the beach and a girl in a bikini posing in a sexual way.

Things to consider

Most children and teens believe certain apps, like Snapchat, automatically delete their photos immediately (and for good). However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reminds consumers that third-party apps can access those photos. This is true of photos on Facebook or Twitter, as well. The photos never really disappear. They are stored on a computer server somewhere. Potentially, these photos have long-term consequences for getting into college and future employment.

Frequent sexting may lead to sexual activity. As a young person becomes more comfortable sharing private images of him or herself, they grow more comfortable in taking the next step.

Sexting can end up in the wrong hands. This may make your child the victim of bullying, blackmail, child pornography, or a victim of pedophile.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Are there signs to look for in my child’s behavior that he or she is sexting?
  • Is my child at an increased risk of self-harm or suicide if his or her sexting is exposed?

Resources

Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Kids: Texting and Sexting
Healthfinder, Think Before You Sext

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Sexting

Last Updated:

This article was contributed by: familydoctor.org editorial staff

Tags: Adolescent, prevention, Psychiatric and Psychologic Kids and Teens, Sex and Sexuality American Academy of Family Physicians Logo

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Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.

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