How To Talk To Your Teen About Sexting

The Bark Team | October 20, 2016 | Parenting Tips

*Updated November 21, 2018*

Today’s technological advances benefit the world in innumerable ways. However, with these benefits also come some risks. Sexting and sextortion — particularly among teens and even preteens — is one that’s on the rise. Understanding what this means and how to talk to teenagers about sexting is very important. Additionally, monitoring their text messages and social media using Bark can help you know whether or not this is happening.

What Is Sexting?

“Sexting,” a slang term that combines sex and texting, is used to describe the taking and sending of sexually explicit photos and videos via text message. It may also be limited to verbal communication, which consists of suggestive and overtly sexual messages or descriptions of sexual acts.

Sexting between two consenting adults is perfectly legal. However, when children under the age of 18 are involved, child pornography and sexual exploitation laws are easily broken. Adults are prosecuted for sending sexually explicit messages to children under 18. But there’s a bit of a gray area in the law regarding teenagers. Children under 18 who send graphic images to their peers may be prosecuted under child pornography laws, though some states have Romeo and Juliet statutes in effect as an exception. The legal repercussions can be serious. It’s up to educated and engaged parents to monitor and safeguard their children.

What Is Sextortion?

“Sextortion” is another slang term, which refers to the crime of extortion as it applies to sex-related photographs sent via the internet or text messaging. It’s also a form of blackmail. If two people are sexting one another, and one of those people threatens the other with distribution of the explicit content, this is sextortion.

People fall victim to sextortion every day. The transgressor may demand money, sex, property, or some type of service from the victim in exchange for keeping the photos confidential. It’s a violation of trust, and, according to psychologists, one of the most traumatic forms of emotional abuse. While it is common among adults (as is evident by the release of celebrity sex tapes), it is also growing even more common among teens — and even preteens — who find themselves in unhealthy relationships or relationships that have disintegrated.

How to Handle Sexting and Sextortion

The right way to handle sexting and sextortion depends on the victim’s age. For aggravated sexting, which is the act of either sending sexually explicit photos to others without their consent or after the victim has asked the perpetrator to stop, there are protective laws. Cases may be filed as harassment, stalking, sexual harassment, or even under extortion statutes.

The laws on underage sexting have not always kept up with technology. They also vary by state, and they’re often prosecuted under child pornography statutes. While some states have Romeo and Juliet exceptions to general child pornography, many of them do not. This means that if a child sends, receives, or stores explicit material of underage peers, they can be charged with child pornography violations that come with heavy penalties. It’s important for parents to teach their kids about the laws in their state, and to have those difficult discussions around navigating the digital world.

8 Tips for Talking to Your Teen About Sexting

  • Proactive Approach: Take a proactive approach and start discussing the ramifications of sexting with your children, using age-appropriate language.
  • Ongoing Communication: Assure your child that they can come to you with questions, concerns, and any uncomfortable texts or images they receive. You’re there to help them navigate online issues and can be trusted to support them with their concerns.
  • Ask Questions: Do they feel peer pressure to engage in the behavior or is it part of what they think is expected of a romantic relationship? Find out what they think about sexting and why people do it.
  • Express Consequences: Explain the legal and reputational consequences that can occur. Remind them it is extremely easy for them to lose control of anything they share online or through text.
  • Create an Action Plan: Remove images from any and all devices. If your child has sent an explicit image, find out where it was sent and remove it. You can also request the images be removed if they have been posted by someone else on a social media account.
  • Discuss consent: Talk about consent and trust in healthy relationships. Remind them not to forward explicit messages that they see or receive, but to report them to a trusted adult who can help delete them and contact the appropriate people.
  • Report to Law Enforcement: Check into the laws of your state. It is illegal in many states for adults to exchange sexual content with an underage child even if it is not an explicit exchange of photos.
  • Provide Resources: Come up with some ready-to-use comebacks or use sites like Send This Instead for humorous and empowering responses to requests for explicit photos or messages.

Additional Resources

Thankfully there are resources that can help you talk to your child about sexting and sextortion, and how to handle any issues that your child faces. There are also programs to help prevent the bullying and emotional abuse that can happen because of sexting. Sign up for Bark monitoring, which helps keep your child safe online by alerting you to potential issues like sexting and sextortion. This can help you support your children in a positive way as they explore the digital world.


Common Sense Media

Megan Meier Foundation




Info on Fake Calculator Apps


Common Emojis used in Sexting

About Bark

Bark is a comprehensive online safety solution that empowers families to monitor content, manage screen time, and filter websites to help protect their kids online. Our mission is to give parents and guardians the tools they need to raise kids in the digital age.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap