What To Do If You Discover Your Teen is Sexting

You have discovered your child is sending nude, or semi-nude, images of themselves to a stranger or someone they know. Now what?

What is “Sexting?”

Sexting is the electronic exchange of sexually suggestive or explicit content in messages, photographs, or videos, between at least two people.

To most teens, “sexting” is a normal way to interact with their peers. I have asked thousands of teens in my cyber safety presentations about their perceptions of sexting. The general belief is that “everybody is doing it,” especially when you’re “going out with” someone. What does the data say? 54% of teens under 18 admit to having sent sexually suggestive messages or inappropriate pictures. We know that 53% of teens who sext are girls while 47% are boys. 1 in 5 teens has sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves. Almost 20% of teens have reported being forwarded an image or video that was not intended for them, with over half of those teens admitting to forwarding it on to more than one other person.

You have discovered your child is sending nude, or semi-nude, images of themselves to a stranger or someone they know. Now what?

Remain calm

Remaining calm in this situation may be very difficult. Deep breaths and repeating the mantra, “remain calm,” over and over in your head may be necessary. Remember, your child has no life experience to help them navigate this issue, and as discussed earlier, the decision-making part of their brain is not fully developed. Fight the urge to punish them immediately. Swift discipline will not help your child in the long run. Remaining calm and talking to your child will help you understand why this happened and what you need to do next.

Talk to them about the situation.

Emotions may be running high, and you may feel incredibly disappointed in your child’s decision. Be careful not to shame your child. Sit down with your child and talk about the situation in a calm, gentle way. Start the conversation by admitting that you both are uncomfortable talking about this. Assure them that you do not want to make them feel worse; you just want to understand what happened and how you can help. Ask questions and be ready to listen without making personal judgments.

Delete any photos or videos.

If your child receives a nude photo, have them delete it right away. If your teen has naked pictures of themselves, have them delete those too. There might be copies of photos on the device’s camera roll or in a photo folder. Check to see if those images have been backed up in the cloud. They will need to be deleted there as well.
Consider working with other involved parents.

If the sexting occurred between two minors, your child and their classmate/boyfriend/girlfriend, consider reaching out to the other child’s parents and work together to resolve the situation. Depending on your level of comfort and how well you know the other parents, call them or meet with them to discuss your children and say, “Our teens have been sending and receiving sexual images. I’d like for us to work together and address this.”

Consider informing law enforcement or the school.

If you believe that your child is exchanging sexual images with an adult, you should contact your local law enforcement agency and report it. Your child is a victim, even if they voluntarily sent an explicit photo to the adult.

If your child is involved in a sexting-bullying situation at school, it may be helpful to have outside intervention through the school and disciplinary action. Some schools have mandatory reporting requirements, which means that they must report this activity to law enforcement. If you decide to work with the school to resolve this issue, it could also become a law enforcement matter.

Ultimately, sexting, like many other parenting challenges, comes down to communication. Start the dialogue with your pre-teen early. Help them see that you are an advocate, that you are on their side, and are more likely to come to you when they have problems later.

This is an abridged excerpt from Clayton Cranford’s updated book, Parenting in the Digital World (Third Edition). To learn more about how to talk to your child about sexting, predators, bullying, pornography, and how to make all of your child’s devices safe with the latest parental control settings, get Clayton’s eBook or the paperback at Amazon.

*There are affiliate links throughout this post because we’ve tested and trust a small list of parental control solutions. Our work saves you time! If you decide that you agree with us, then we may earn a small commission, which does nothing to your price. Thank you! 

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About the Author

Clayton Cranford
Clayton Cranford is a retired Sergeant from Orange County Sheriff's Department in California and owner of Total Safety Solutions LLC. Clayton is one of the nation’s leading law enforcement educators on social media, child safety, and behavioral threat assessments. Clayton is the author of the definitive book on cyber safety for families, “Parenting in the Digital World.” Clayton has more than 20 years of teaching experience and was awarded the 2015 National Bullying Prevention Award from the School Safety Advocacy Council, and the 2015 American Legion Medal of Merit. Clayton was a member of the County's Behavioral Threat Assessment Team, Crisis Negotiation Team, School Resource Officer program, and Juvenile Bureau.