How to Talk about Sexting with your Child
Image Credit: Stacey McNaught
What is Sexting?
Sexting includes electronically sharing or receiving sexually explicit videos, photos, or text. Many youth have easy access to electronic communication and can participate in sexting not only via phone, but also by computer, tablet, and even some video game consoles. Recent studies estimate that that 14 – 17% of teens have sent a sext, and 24 – 27% have received one (Strasburger et al., 2019). This is especially alarming considering that sexting is illegal for anyone under the age of 18.
In many states, the law makes no distinction between sexting and child pornography – meaning that teens who engage in sexting can be charged with a felony for taking and/or sharing sexual photos or videos of themselves, as well as soliciting and/or possessing sexual photos or videos of others their own age. They may need to pay fines, attend counseling, or even spend time in a juvenile facility (Lorang et al, 2016).
Facilitating a Conversation
Although it has been normalized to a certain degree for adolescents to engage in sexting, they may not be aware of the potential legal ramifications of sending or receiving sexually explicit content of minors – even when they themselves are minors. This may feel unfair to children who wish to participate in sexting with their peers, but these laws are ultimately in place to protect youth. Whether someone is known to have been hurt by it or not, children need to know that they’re risking severe legal consequences if they choose to engage in sexting.
Another important item to discuss with your children is the lack of control that they have over the content they share with others electronically. Unless they’re told so directly, they may not consider that videos and images shared in confidence could be dispersed without their consent for the sake of bullying or blackmail, or even for financial gain (“Learn about sexting,” n.d.). In fact, a recent analysis indicates that approximately 1 in 12 youth have had a sext that they chose to share with someone be forwarded to others without their consent (Madigan et al., 2018). Some applications are designed in a way that makes users feel more safe sharing vulnerable or revealing photos and videos, but many users don’t realize that there are still loopholes. For example, Snapchat, which is the most common application used for sexting among minors, has a built-in feature for videos and images to disappear after they’re viewed. However, that doesn’t always stop people from taking screenshots, screen recording videos, or recording the content from a secondary device (Carly Ryan Foundation, n.d.).
While discussing sexting with your child, make sure to allow them space to share their thoughts and questions, too. It’s important to be open minded with what your child does share with you. Ensure they know that you are there to listen to them, not to judge them. They may not wish to share their thoughts and that’s okay, too. By having this conversation, you’re providing your child with tools that they can use in the future, even if they feel too awkward or embarrassed to continue discussing it with you.
Carly Ryan Foundation. (n.d.). App Facts. [PDF]. Retrieved April 12, 2023, from https://echucaeastps.vic.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Carly-Ryan-App-Facts.pdf
Learn about sexting. (n.d.). Internet Matters. https://www.internetmatters.org/issues/sexting/learn-about-sexting/#sexting-info
Lorang, M. R., McNiel, D. E., & Binder R. L. (2016). Minors and Sexting: Legal Implications. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, 44(1), 63 – 81. https://jaapl.org/content/jaapl/44/1/73.full.pdf
Madigan, S., Ly, A., Rash, C.L., Ouytsel, J. V., & Temple, J.R. (2018). Prevalence of multiple forms of sexting behavior among youth: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatrics, 172(4), 327 – 335. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.5314
Strasburger, V.C., Zimmerman, H., Temple, J. R., & Madigan, S. (2019). Teenagers, sexting, and the law. Pediatrics, 143(5). https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2018-3183