What to do if You Catch Your Teen Sexting

If you catch your teen sexting, it's important to take action.
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Sexting is just one way the digital age has changed teenage sexuality.  Just a decade ago, exchanging nude photos with a teenage love interest was practically unheard of. But now, smartphones, tablets, and computers make it easy for teens to exchange sexually explicit photos, videos, and messages with one another.

Some parents and professionals argue that sexting isn’t a big deal. They claim it’s just one more avenue for today’s teens to express their sexuality.

Others argue that sexting is a major problem that isn’t being taken seriously enough. Not only could one scantily clad photo damage a teen’s reputation, it could also lead to serious legal consequences.

The Potential Consequences of Sexting

Many teens experience peer pressure to engage in sexting. A teen may insist his romantic partner send a nude photo to show that she’s committed or a teen may feel pressured to send scantily clad photos because ‘everyone else is doing it.’

Unfortunately, those pictures or videos may be used for a variety of harmful purposes. Sometimes teens become victims of blackmail or even cyberbullying after their images have been sent.

Pictures that were meant to be private may be posted in public forums. As a result, a teen’s reputation may be seriously damaged.

Sometimes, teens exchange photos with people they've grown to trust online. And sometimes, the recipients are child predators posing as a children.


Teens who send or receive nude photos could be charged with possession of child pornography. Laws vary by state and different jurisdictions handle offenses in a slightly different manner.

But consequences can include a fine, probation or incarceration. There’s even a chance a teen may be required to register as a sex offender.

If you discover your teen has been sexting, here are the steps you should take:

1. Consider the Potential Legal Issues

If you become aware that your teen has been sending or receiving sexually explicit pictures of videos, address the issue right away. Find out who has been sexting with your teen. If an adult has requested pictures, or has sent your teen sexually explicit content, it may constitute a crime.

Decide whether the matter is a legal issue. If your teen is in possession of sexually explicit content, it may constitute child pornography. Deleting photos could be considered tampering with evidence if a crime has been committed. You may need to consult with an attorney about how to proceed.

2. Don’t Look at the Pictures

Sometimes, angry parents want to show the other teen’s parent photos as if to say, “Do you know what kind of pictures your son has been sending my daughter?” But doing so could make you liable for sending child pornography. Never share any sexually explicit content of a minor under any circumstances.

Don’t look at the pictures either. Looking at sexually explicit content of your child isn’t something you’ll want to see. And it will be highly embarrassing to your child.

And don’t look at sexually explicit content of another minor—sexually suggestive or nude photos constitute child pornography.

3. Set Limits and Give Your Teen consequences

Make it clear that you don’t condone sexting. Express your disapproval and make your expectations for future behavior clear.

Give your teen a consequence for inappropriate behavior. Remove electronic privileges for a week or ground your teen from going anywhere for a specified period of time.

Take steps to prevent your teen from sending or receiving sexually explicit content in the future. Monitor your teen’s internet use and let your teen know you’ll be conducting periodic checks of electronic devices.

Don’t allow your teen to sleep with a smartphone or other electronics in the bedroom. Teens are more likely to receive requests for inappropriate content during late night hours. Remove the temptation by creating a household rule that says no electronics after a certain time each evening.

4. Keep Communication Open

Rather than lecturing your teen about his behavior, take the opportunity to talk about important subjects like sexuality, relationships, and healthy choices. But don’t limit your talks to a one time conversation – commit to talking about these topics regularly.

When you see stories in the news about sexting, cyberbullying, or other teenage issues, talk about it with your teen. Point out the consequences teens receive for making poor choices. Ask questions like, “Do you think people at your school do these types of things?” and keep the lines of communication open.

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