How Do I Talk to My Kids About Sexting?
Updated: Mar 16
Sexting is at an all-time high these days. While it can be fun for teens, it has very dangerous ramifications for any adolescent. The risks associated with kids sharing nudes or even being in possession of sexually explicit content on their phones can range from reputational damage to criminal prosecution. Yes, in about half of the states — and some other countries — it’s illegal for teenagers to have nudes of themselves or other kids on their devices.
We know it doesn’t come easy at all for parents to have conversations about topics like these with their kids, but given the trend of sexting recently, it’s become a necessity to talk about it. A 2018 meta-analysis on sexting, Prevalence of Multiple Forms of Sexting Behavior Among Youth, published in JAMA Pediatrics, showed some shocking stats.
“1 in 7 adolescents have sent sexts, 1 in 4 have received sexts, and 1 in 8 have forwarded sexts without the consent of the person in the photo.
In fact, many teens say that sharing nudes has become a prerequisite for dating, with girls feeling pressured the most to send photos. Another study showed that almost every teenager in high school had either been asked to send a nude or asked another teenager to send a nude of themselves. For most of these kids, the pressure to feel liked outweighs their better sense of judgment.
What is Sexting?
Sexting is the act of sending nude photos, videos, or sexual messages. The word itself is a combination of sex and texting. Defined in other words, sexting is sending, requesting, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photos, or videos of oneself or others, online — mostly by using mobile phones.
Why You Should Talk About Sexting with Your Kids
These days, not many teenagers understand what genuine love is. The standard out there is confusing, and it’s easy to fall for anything if one isn’t sure of what is right and what isn’t. While there are times when there is consent among sexters, most requests for nudes do come unsolicited — and mostly from boys to girls.
Roughly speaking, one out of 3 girls who have gone through high and middle school has been asked by multiple boys to send their nudes, with most texts reading something along the lines of, ‘If you love me, you’ll send me this kind of thing”.
Sometimes, the texts are random and outrightly offensive. A guy might send their picture to a girl and say, “Hey cutie, your turn,” without even asking for it, said one teenager. A popular high school teenage singer once complained that she gets random texts from guys for her nudes at least once a week. Parents may not know this, but it's a tough reality out there. A report published on Seventeen.com shows that 62 percent of kids copped to actually sexting.
Aside from sextortion, heartbreak, cyberbullying from peers, or the psychological damage that exposure of your child's nudes online might do to them, another reason why parents must have this conversation with their kids is that it is illegal for people under 18 to be in possession of pornographic content of any kind on their phones. In several states, sexting, whether consensual or not, is considered child pornography. This has legal repercussions, and in some cases, the teen involved risks being registered as a sex offender or taken away from their home.
What Can You Do About Sexting?
First, keep in mind that girls hardly ask for nude photos of guys. The pressure is mostly the other way around. A 2019 study revealed that three times as many girls as boys felt pressured to send a sext and that twice as many girls as boys have received requests for nudes. So, what can you do?
Start the conversation early: According to surveys, this trend starts at a very young age. Most girls receive their first sexts between the ages of 11-14. Even if your kids are younger, it’s never too early to engage them on this topic. Let them understand what genuine relationships look like, the behaviors they can expect from peers, teachers, and friends, and how to stay safe online. Then as they get older, you can begin to talk more specifically about sexting.
Ask what they think and know about sexting: So, you’ve heard that your child was caught sexting with her middle school classmate? Before switching to the “What were you thinking?” and “How stupid can you be?” kind of tone, you might want to calm down and understand what your child thinks about the situations, how they feel, and what they know so far. If you’re lucky to get reasonable responses, this becomes a basis for you to educate them better or even learn what they know.
Use case studies: If going straight into the conversation feels awkward, you can use cases of kids that went viral on the media and online to start the conversation. As you talk about others who have been affected adversely, you have another opportunity to hear what your child knows so that you can guide them.
Ask them if they’re proud of doing it: This will probably get your kid thinking hard. They probably do not think of how far the picture will go. Ask them if they think the picture will stay private forever. No child will be proud to show off their naked parts to others, especially when they know what their parents think of it.
Help Your Child Create Healthy Boundaries
Perhaps, the best coping mechanism you can arm your teen with, is how to stand their ground and say no. Peer pressure and bullying can make kids do stupid things. But having proper guidance and a strong sense of self-worth can help any child overcome the pressure to engage in sexting.
Let your child understand that sexting can equally lead to sextortion and child sexual exploitation. Sextortion is a strategy employed by sex traffickers, and it can happen to any kid. Above all, you want them to be open about any cases of abuse, requests for nudes, or anything closely or remotely related to cyberbullying.