How to Talk to Teens About the Risks of Sexting

By Andrea Nelson
March 19, 2024
Teen girl texting in bedroom

No parent wants to come to the realization their child is sexting. Maybe you’re doing your due diligence and monitoring your child’s texts, or perhaps you’re tipped off by another parent. However it happens, that moment of, “Oh my god, my daughter is sending inappropriate messages,” feels like a punch to the gut. Read on to learn the risks of sexting and how to keep your child safe. 

Sexting explained

You’ve likely heard the term, but what is sexting? “Sexting” refers to sending or receiving sexually explicit videos, images, or text messages. It can occur on a smartphone, computer, tablet, video game, or digital camera. 

Sexting is becoming more common with teens, thanks in large part to the overall increase in digital communication. In many ways, the practice has become normalized among adolescents. 

Risks of sexting 

Once your child sends a sext, they have no control over where it goes. Even someone they trust can easily forward it to others. What may have been intended as a relatively innocent exploration of their burgeoning sexuality can quickly and easily spiral into something much more serious. 

Some of the potential consequences your child might face from sexting: 

  • Mental health issues: Humiliation or embarrassment caused by sexting can lead to serious emotional distress. 
  • Consequences at school: If the sexting violated a school policy, your child may face punishment such as suspension or removal from an athletic team. 
  • Social fallout: If the sexting is discovered by peers, it can lead to bullying, teasing, or harassment. 
  • Safety concerns: If the explicit content is posted online, it can make the kids involved vulnerable to predators, sextortion, and stalking.
  • Digital footprint: Sexts can be screenshotted, shared, and posted online even if it’s against the sender’s wishes. Having sexually explicit content as part of your child’s digital footprint could lead to problems down the line when they apply for colleges or jobs.   
  • Legal problems: Depending on the laws in your state, sending or receiving sexts could lead to legal ramifications for your child. In some cases, minors may be prosecuted with a felony charge punishable by up to 20 years in prison or be permanently placed on sex offender registries. 

How to talk to your teen about sexting

There’s no time like yesterday to talk to your teen about sexting. The best case is that you discuss it with them before it becomes an issue. But even if you’ve already discovered they’re involved in sexting, it’s never too late to have this important conversation. 

Here are some tips for talking to your teen about sexting: 

Start early and communicate often

It’s a good idea to start talking to your child about rules and boundaries with texting etiquette as soon as they have their first phone. If they already have their own device, it’s better to talk to them now than wait until they’re knee-deep in a tricky situation.

You want your child to feel comfortable coming to you if they get caught up in sexting. The best way to create this open atmosphere is to show them that you’re comfortable talking about challenging topics. Do what you can to project calm (even if you’re actually cringing inside).  

Ask questions 

Begin by asking if they’ve heard of sexting and what they know about it. Ask if anyone has ever asked or pressured them to sext and if they’ve ever received a sext from someone. 

Avoid shaming, but discuss the risks 

Shaming your teen for sexting is an almost guaranteed way to shut down the lines of communication. Let them know that the desire to explore their sexuality is completely normal, but that doing so with sexting can lead to serious consequences. 

In particular, be explicit that, in certain situations, sexting is considered child pornography and should be taken very seriously. 

Come up with a plan for safe texting practices

Set the expectation that your teen won’t sext and will let you know if they receive sexts so you can problem-solve together. It’s also a good idea to establish a plan for monitoring your child’s digital activity — more on that below.

How to monitor your child’s phone for inappropriate texts

Monitoring your child’s phone and social media messages is an important measure to help safeguard them against the risks of sexting. Sit down with your child periodically to look at their phone together and ask them who they’ve been messaging lately. 

Monitoring apps are also a great tool in your arsenal. BrightCanary uses AI technology to monitor your child’s digital activity. In fact, it’s one of the only parental monitoring apps that tracks messages on Instagram and TikTok, as well as texts on Apple devices.

The bottom line 

Sexting can lead to serious consequences for teens. Parents should talk to their child about the dangers of sexting and set up a plan for monitoring their online activity. 

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