How to Talk to Your Child About Sending Inappropriate Text Messages

Mom looking at phone on couch

You’ve taken all the right steps to monitor your child’s text messages. The device contract is signed, you hold regular tech check-ins, and you’ve signed up for a monitoring app. Great job! But do you know what to do when your child sends inappropriate texts? What if you discover they sent explicit images, shared violent videos, or bullied one of their peers? 

The answer is not to freak out, throw their phone in the trash, and ground them for life. Read on for practical tips on talking to your child about sending inappropriate text messages. 

What is considered inappropriate messages?

Text messages and social media messaging can be full of concerning content for kids, and that can lead to some pretty questionable behavior. 

Here are some examples of what you might find: 

  • Sexts: These are explicit pictures or messages your child has sent of themselves or someone else. 
  • Bullying: Cyberbullying has surpassed other forms of bullying as the number one form of harassment among middle and high school kids, according to Pew Research Center. Messages and group chats are a prime place where this can happen.
  • Private made public: Kids might take a screenshot of private conversations or pictures and share them to a wider audience. 
  • Inappropriate videos: It’s relatively easy for kids to find videos that contain gore, violence, adult behavior, and other material that kids may not be prepared to handle on their own. Kids may send each other links to these videos for the shock-factor.

Why kids send inappropriate messages

There are many reasons a child may send inappropriate messages. That could include peer pressure, the desire for acceptance, and attention seeking. It’s also important to remember their brains are still under construction. 

The prefrontal cortex, involved in things like decision-making, doesn’t finish developing until around age 25. That means kids can be impulsive, without thinking through the consequences of their actions. It’s not dissimilar from the reasons kids misbehave or rebel in other ways, but the sheer scale of inappropriate messages online can feel like uncharted territory — especially to parents who didn’t grow up in the digital era. 

The best time to talk to your child about inappropriate messages

Establishing expectations for responsible behavior over messages should ideally start before you hand your child their first device, and it should be an ongoing conversation as they grow up. 

If that ship has already sailed, let this be your sign to start now, before you discover an issue. And if that ship has already sailed and you’ve come to this article because you just found something upsetting on your child’s phone, take a deep breath, take the time you need to calm down, and get to it. 

While early is best, it’s never too late. You’ve got this! 

How to talk to your child about sending inappropriate messages

When you talk to your child about the inappropriate messages you found, it’s important to know both what to say and how to say it. Here are some tips for both: 

How to talk to your child: 

  • Keep your cool: The goal is open communication and a constructive resolution. That’s hard to do when you’re through the roof. Regulate your own emotions before you approach your child. 
  • Listen: Try to avoid jumping to conclusions before you’ve had a chance to talk to your child. The more open-minded you can be going into your conversation, the more you can be a supportive force for helping them right the course. 
  • Avoid shaming: Listen. You’re mad, and that’s normal. It’s okay to let your child know you’re upset. But shame is counterproductive. Make it clear that your love for your child is unconditional and nothing they can do will change that. Let them know they are more than their mistakes and that you’ll be here to support them as they move through this one.   

What to say: 

  • Explain your concerns: Did what they sent hurt someone else? Are you worried about the consequences for their own life? Be explicit about your concerns and why what they did wasn’t okay.
  • Discuss the implications: Talk to your child about how to live out their values in a digital space. Make sure they understand the importance of considering their digital footprint
  • Come up with a plan: Start by asking your child what they think should be done to make things right. You might be surprised by their insightfulness. After they’re done, fill in any gaps if needed. Solutions might include apologizing to the person they harassed, or asking the person they sent an explicit message to delete it. 
  • Look forward: Once the situation at hand is settled, make your expectations going forward crystal-clear. Write or revise your digital device contract to make sure it includes texting and messaging behavior. 

In short

If you discover your child has sent inappropriate messages, it’s important to approach them with a calm, open manner and discuss both the short- and long-term implications of their actions.

Be the most informed parent in the room.
Sign up for bimonthly digital parenting updates.
Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
@2024 Tacita, Inc. All Rights Reserved.