How to talk to your tween about sexting

The best way to help your child avoid the sexting trap is to talk to them about it early and often. Here’s what you should say…

tween girl lying on bed texting

When Diana B. found a sexually explicit photo in her 12-year-old daughter’s sent text messages folder, she was shocked.

“I believed that my precious little girl was still so naïve and I never imagined she’d do anything like that,” says Diana. “I sat her down for a chat and she broke down right away, telling me that she’d been pressured to send the photo by a boy who claimed to be her friend. We talked about the consequences of her actions and spoke to the school. I don’t think she’ll be sexting again, but I ask her about it every week now.”

What is sexting?

Sexting – sending nude or sexually explicit photos via text message – is an ever-growing problem among teenagers. A study of over 110,00 teens around the world published in JAMA Pediatrics in 2018 found that one in seven teenagers is sending sexts while one in four is receiving them.

The most concerning stat? More than 12 percent of teens are forwarding sexts without the consent of the sender.

How to discuss sexting with your child

 

  • Be proactive
  • Teach kids that requesting explicit photos is wrong
  • What to do if your child feels pressured
  • What do to if your child receives a sext
  • Useful online resources – thatsnotcool.com

We will discuss these six tips in detail below to help your tween avoid the pitfalls of sexting…

  1. Be proactive

Don’t wait until your child has hit puberty to discuss sexting. Broach the topic as soon as they have a cell phone or when they hit tweendom (ages 9 to 12). 

Start by asking them if they’ve heard of sexting and what they know about it. Then, fill in the gaps in their knowledge with age-appropriate explanations. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, younger children who have cell phones should be told that text messages should never contain photos or videos of people (kids or adults) without their clothes on, or engaged in extended kissing or touching private parts.

For older kids, use the term “sexting” and ask them if they’ve ever been exposed to images of nudity or sexual activity. With teens, be clear that sexting often involves sexually explicit photos and that it’s illegal in some states.

  1. Teach kids that requesting explicit photos is wrong

In a recent New York Times article, psychologist Lisa Damour denounces the way we talk to our teens about sexting. Parents and teachers focus almost entirely on talking to girls about why they shouldn’t send explicit photos rather than discussing with boys why it’s wrong to request them in the first place.

Damour suggests explaining to both boys and girls that you don’t want them to send nude photos because it will put them in a terrible position, and that you don’t want them to request nude photos because it will put someone else in a terrible position.

  1. Talk to your child about what to do if they feel pressured to sext

Explain to your child that you understand how much pressure they might be put under to send nude or sexually explicit photos, but that the consequences – including social humiliation, school suspension, legal repercussions and difficulty finding employment in the future – are far worse.

Make sure they understand that they can’t get a photo back once they’ve sent it and that it could be widely distributed. Even apps that “delete” the photo after a short time aren’t safe because the receiver could take a screenshot. If anyone is pressuring them to sext, they should talk to a trusted adult.

  1. Discuss what they should do if they receive a sext

Teach boys and girls to immediately delete any inappropriate photos they receive. Forwarding a nude photo of another person without their consent is illegal and could have serious legal repercussions.

  1. Check in periodically

Rather than having a one-off talk about sexting, turn it into an ongoing conversation by checking in periodically. Ask them if they’ve received any sexually explicit photos since the last time you talked about it and rehearse responses they could use if they were asked to send one.

If you notice that your child is texting excessively or acting suspiciously, ask them who they’re texting and what they’re sending. While it might feel like an invasion of your child’s privacy, monitoring their phone could be necessary if you’re worried that they might be sexting.

  1. Visit ThatsNotCool.com

A national public education initiative, That’s Not Cool uses interactive tools to help young people learn about and protect themselves against dating violence and digital abuse. Check out the website with your teen or suggest that they browse it on their own. Ask them later what they learned and if they have any questions. 

As uncomfortable as these chats might feel at first, they can provide your child with the tools they need to resist peer pressure and avoid making a mistake they’ll regret for years to come. Plus, if you start when they’re young, the lines of communication will already be open by the time they hit adolescence.