Ask Titania: Help! My Son Is Sexting

Haley Zapal | March 09, 2023

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Dear Titania,
I’ve just discovered that my high school freshman son has been sending sexual messages to his new girlfriend; they’ve only been together for less than a week at this point. We were alerted to these messages from our monitoring service (Bark). I am frustrated, desperate for help, and unsure of what to do next! We’ve even tried giving him a flip phone in the past, however, he really needs a smartphone for school apps and websites that they use daily. What else can we do? 

Son Is Sexting

Dear Son is Sexting,
Thanks for your question! This isn’t an easy one, so the frustration is understandable. But to start, you need to know you’re definitely not alone. Lots of parents have gotten the same alert from Bark and asked the same question: What do I do now?

Time for the Talk

As parents, it can be distressing to discover our teens taking part in anything remotely sexual. They’ll always just be little kids in our eyes so it’s hard to view them as soon to be adults who will hopefully pursue healthy, sexual relationships in the future. But our job as parents isn’t to prohibit them from growing or exploring, but instead to guide them to ensure they go about it safely and responsibly. Their hormones are going to kick in whether we like it or not, so best to face it head-on rather than try to avoid it. 

Obviously, the main thing you’ll need to do is talk to your son. I know — this is easier said than done. Our parents only had to give us the birds-and-the-bees talk. We have to do that and talk about how it intersects with digital technology. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you discuss with your son what’s happened.

Try to approach the conversation as an opportunity to teach. 

It’s important to not shame him or make this an end-of-the-world situation. Remember, sexual desires at his age are completely normal. Start the conversation off by reminding him of that, then approach your concerns gently and informatively. 

Discuss what is (and isn’t!) appropriate to share with his girlfriend, especially in digital form

Go over sexting specifically and all of the repercussions that can come with it. Once things are shared online, they linger forever and could potentially come back to harm him later on. And many states have laws regarding sexting that could get your son into trouble. Even if the sexting occurred between two minors, some states could still prosecute. 

Tell your son that it’s important to respect his girlfriend — as well as everyone — when it comes to any sexual engagement. On the flip side, make sure he knows he shouldn’t ever feel obligated to take part in things that make him uncomfortable. Sexting in particular is a huge pressure that lots of teens face today. Some believe they will be judged or lose their relationship if they don’t do it. And for those that choose not to engage in sexting, many think they’ll be judged for this, as well. This is a good opportunity to ask your son why he decided to send these messages, which will help you as his parent better understand the situation. 

Taking away his phone may not be the best solution 

Many teens will simply sneak it or find alternate ways to continue this type of messaging. At the end of the day, taking the phone away won’t solve the problem — especially because he’ll be using a phone for the rest of his life. Part of our job as parents is to teach our kids how to uge technology responsibly. Continue to have open discussions and model healthy behavior. 

Continuing to monitor with an app like Bark can help you know when and if it’s still happening. You could also set screen time limits on texting and social media apps to help limit access to sending photos, especially at night. The Bark Phone gives you even more controls and lets you disable the camera whenever you need to — including screenshots. 

Some Parting Parental Wisdom

If we leave you with nothing else, we hope you take this to heart: Don’t beat yourself up over your teen’s actions. It doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. We can’t control when our teens will decide to sexually explore, but we can try to prepare for it and be ready for some hard conversations. Good luck!

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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.