Additional Thoughts on Sexting Advice for Teens


Thanks to all for their comments on my recent blog about how teens should respond when they receive a “sext.” Here are some of my follow-up thoughts, based on comments and emails received, as well as an email exchange among members of the Youth Risk Online Google Group which includes some of the brightest “teens and tech minds” in the world. (You can read fellow member Larry Magid’s comments here.)

Being a criminologist who regularly works with police officers and who is currently working with the FBI to train officers about issues relating to cyberbullying, I certainly can appreciate the interest expressed by the law enforcement folks who responded saying that the evidence needs to be kept. The problem is that if they follow this advice, they risk prosecution for possession of child porn if a district attorney is trying to make a name for him/herself. Plus if a friend gets a hold of their phone, finds the image, and distributes it to others, there will be huge problems.

I also appreciate the concerns of those who maintain that an adult must be consulted. This is sage advice for many adolescent problems (including those that originate or escalate online), but frankly it just won’t work in a sexting incident. As I pointed out in my post, it is my contention that the vast majority of the time teens receive sexting images from those they consider close friends. As such, there is absolutely NO WAY they will tell an adult about this because they do not want to get that friend into so much trouble. If my best friend sends me a topless picture of his girlfriend, am I going to rat him out? Of course not. Adults, it seems, are forced to respond to sexting incidents in extreme ways – ways that have long-term, irreversible consequences. Until we can develop reasonable responses that do not potentially foreclose on the futures of all involved, we are wise to advise that students do not contact adults, unless the incident is appearing to get out of control. And I think teens know when it is out of control.

Moreover, whenever educators ask me what to do about sexting incidents they are made aware of, I generally advise them to contact a law enforcement partner. Unfortunately, this too is bad advice, but the only advice that is safe. Teachers who confide in other teachers risk prosecution for distribution of child porn. Educators simply aren’t trained to deal with these problems and if they try to do the right thing, it will likely come back to haunt them. The problem here is that cops and district attorneys do not have a good history when it comes to dealing with sexting. But they are not the only ones to blame for this. They are applying and enforcing outdated laws that weren’t written to deal with this problem. Police and prosecutors are generally black/white types of people, and there is a whole lot of gray when it comes to dealing with sexting. Until we sort these issues out, it is risky to involve them in responding to the problem. But it is also risky (perhaps even more so) for adults who are confronted with a sexting incident to not contact the police. That’s because they too are potentially subject to long-term, irreversible consequences if they mishandle the incident (that’s especially true for educators).

So, while I appreciate everyone’s feedback, nobody has said anything that leads me to change my advice. Keeping the best interest of teens in the forefront, we must insist that students who receive sext images immediately delete them and hope that the incident ends there. If it doesn’t, then we have to re-evaluate.


  1. Sexting is the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photographs, primarily between mobile phones but this could also happen on other devices and the Web. However, this can promote social danger. Sexting material can be very easily and widely propagated, over which the sender has no control what so ever. Sexting activities can also result in very serious charges for example child pornography/procession and distribution. Many adolescences dealing with relationship and crushes are pressured into this type of behavior. Sometimes it's impulsive but it is always a bad idea. Somewhere later on down in the future this could be use for blackmail. The legal and psychological consequences sometimes are devastating. Moreover think about it, if a nude photo you send end up in another state you can be charge with a felony. And because sexting is a felony for children, the violator can end up on the sex offender registry. Not to mention that individual these days are not always who they seem to be. Sometimes people charge, grow up and decide to do things that are not normal according to society. This can sometime damage your reputation because your photos can be distributed and archived online. But even though some individuals with sexting are the perpetrator, many of them end up being the victim. You can send a nude photo of yourself to a boyfriend who so becomes a disgruntled x-boyfriend therefore you perpetrated it. Then he can turn around and distributed your photo to many other individuals including placing it online. This is very tricky because now you just became the victim. Funny when you think about it because the last thing you probably would have thought about was someone else seeing your photo beside the individual you sent it too.

  2. Adolescent’s parents need to step back and ask themselves why their kids participate in sexting. Could it just be possible they let kids grow up too fast, providing them with all the tools to quickly outgrow their childhood. All too often we as individuals can walk around and see the many adolescents with cell phone. Many of them looking like they are just out of pamper. Whatever happened to the days when Barbie’s and G.I Joe’s was number one for adolescents? Now days it’s like the kids are ruling the parents and whatever the kid wants the kid gets and these types of actions are what a kid learns from. Maybe by asking these types of questions a parent might just find that something went wrong somewhere during their kid’s developmental stage.

  3. Although it may be outrageous to believe but the practice of sexting is not as uncommon as many people may think. Sexting is the practice of sending explicit photos by means of text messages/email. A study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and Cosmo Girl found that 20% of teens and 33% of adult’s ages 20 to 26 have shared nude or semi-nude photos of themselves either by text messaging or by posting them online. Another Study by the Pew Research Center found that children as young as 12 years old who owned a cell phones say they have received some sort of sexually suggestive images through texting. I can’t imagine why a twelve year child would be allowed to have their own personal cell phone that is one device that can’t really be supervised by anyone.

  4. There are actually commercials on sexting awareness and software to help prevent the issues of sexting. I was sitting at home watching TV one day when I came across this really interesting commercial about sexting. You can watch it here: makers of the commercial are at which provided advice for kids in issues they face. This might be helpful for those children faced with issues about relationships, friendships one sour, and so forth. There is also a YouTube video about an Apple iPhone Anti-Sexting Software ( which would send the child’s texts first to the parent who could then approve of the text and let it go to the receiver. Very innovated however, I see it could be a problem for the parents, especially knowing how much youths text now-a-days. The parent would have to constantly be on their phone reviewing texts.

  5. Sexting needs to be taken more seriously by teens and their parents. Teens have no idea that sending nude pictures of themself is considered child pornography because they are under age. Child pornography is a crime and teens can end up in prison for having possession of a nude picture of a boyfriend or girlfriend. Parents need to talk to their kids about sexting and their consequences because I believe a lot of teens have no idea that their parents know about sexting and the problems it has caused. I believe if parents are able to check their phone to see when their child has sent a picture message it can eliminate some sexting because they can ask their child what kind of picture they sent. The child might not tell the truth but at least it can put some fear in them and make them think twice about sending nude pictures if their parent can have access to that information.

  6. Sexting is another reason to be careful who you trust. Teens are becoming too comfortable with their boyfriend or girlfriend and sending nude pictures but when they break up these pictures are used as black mail. They end up putting these pictures up on the internet for everyone to see and you become the talk of school. Having a nude picture of you on the internet is humiliating. The picture you thought that was meant for your partner, everyone is looking at it. It even hurts your family because other people are going to be talking about it not just classmates. As a parent you do not want your child to feel humiliated or degraded but that is the consequences of sexting. Hope fully teens can see the troubles it has caused other and their families and we can eliminate teen sexting.

  7. Everyone knows that there is not doubt that Technology has become a serious problem in our society, community and even families. Technology causes many problems such as cyberbullying, sexting, stalking, online fraud, theft identity and much more. In this case i want to discuss the importance of Sexting. Sexting is a very serious issue because of the consequences it can provoke. Some of these consequences can be shame, gossip, denial, social rejection or even suicide. If society is not careful, in my opinion, sexting could even turn out in other way of pornography, violation of rights and privacy. I also believe that what society, especially teenagers, need is more education about this matter. Teenagers do not understand the seriousness of sending a nude picture of themselves or talking dirty to their boyfriends or girlfriends, friends or others. During adolescence everything is temporary relationships and even friendships. Teenagers are never sure what friends or partners can use against themselves. In High School many teenagers think that they have found their true love, get very close to their friends and start feeling more comfortable on doing things like sexting. Teenagers need to be educated a lot about this subject because they do not understand many things and are not awarded of the consequences already mentioned above. Teenagers need to understand that at that age it is really hard to trust other people than family. If personals pictures are sent to other people, we are not sure what can happen to these pictures when a brake up or arguments occur. I believe education from the community, parents, teachers and others play a very important role when talking about reducing costs and consequences. Ruing someone's life takes only a second and many times the person itself can prevent it.

  8. I never really realized how much sexting goes on in today’s society. Most of the participants are kids that are barely in high school – showing they’re often times too young to know the difference of right and wrong and to be able to make wise decisions. I always had the stereotype in my head that most of the people sending the pictures are girls, and most of the people receiving the pictures are boys. Personally, I thought this because it seems more common for a young boyfriend to request explicit photos of his girlfriend, rather than vice versa. Girls seem more submissive to boys, leading to a higher sending rate amongst them. But that isn't always the case. It is evident that sexting is becoming a popular problem among the youth of today’s society. I think the best way to help control these cases from continuing to happen is to let the responsibility rest with the parents. Parents need to me more attentive to what their child is participating in. After all, parents are usually the ones who are paying the cell phone bills.

  9. I for one have a 17 year old cousin who partakes in sexting. I was once browsing through her phone and came across very graphic pictures and asked her about it and she just laughed. To her its not a big deal and was just what kids her age do these days. Sexting is a serious problem because like the article that i read, people commit suicide from the backlash they receive from the spreading of their nude pictures.

  10. While sexting is worthy of concern, I think the criminal actions taken against minors crosses the line into absurdity. While it is true that once these pictures or videos are out there is no control over what is done with them or who can see them, I think a lot of the outrage has more to do with America's negative attitude toward sexuality, especially when it comes to teenagers. Laws meant to protect children from sexual predators should not be grossly misconstrued to punish kids who share pictures with each other. There should certainly be punishment for misuse of such material and the consequences of sending such pictures can be monumentally humiliating if nothing else, but putting a teenager on a sexual offenders list or convicting them of a felony severely limits them for the rest of his/her life. I have a hard time believing that this is done in the interest of the children. "The interest of the children" is a common defense used when attacking every form of youth sexuality. Think about it- we're in the 21st century and teaching comprehensive factual information about sex in public schools is an explosive topic! I think often it is difficult for parents and educators to formulate effective solutions when dealing with sexting because they must first admit and accept the fact that teenagers are having sex. When I look at these extreme measures taken to punish sexting, I wonder is this about breaking the law or is this about condemning teen sexuality?


    This article caught my attention more so because this is our topic for this week. Sexting has been an ongoing problem and there must be laws passed in order to protect the people that have fallen victims of sexting. Many people choose this form of communication to humiliate others by forwarding and sending photos. “Current Texas law does not have an appropriate remedy to address teen sexting. Right now, educators, parents and law enforcement officers who encounter teens’ explicit text messages really only have two options. Adults can either ignore teen sexting or have kids charged with violating the state’s strict child pornography statute – which applies because explicit images of minors constitute child pornography, even if they are sent by a minor.” In the article we read Senator Watson’s plan in order to educate teens on the severity of sexting. He wants to spread the word of what laws are involved when committing this type of crime. Many people have a lack of knowledge when it comes to this type of offense. This is important because cell phones usage and messaging is not going anywhere and students should be advised on the consequences and victims need to know their options.

  12. Unfortunately young girls are very aware of what young boys are curious about and some of these young ladies like to put on a show not thinking of the consequences. Especially when girls start maturing early. I remember visiting my little brother's middle school a few years back and there were 14 and 15 year olds there that looked 23-24 years old. I left there thinking "Wow, what are these parents feeding their children? I don't remember girls looking like that when I was in middle school!" Sometimes the body matures faster than the mind. Some girls are just naive and trust their boyfriends enough to send them naked pictures. Why would they do that, well I think a lot of it has to do with the media. I think maybe education on cyber bullying and sexting should be thrown in there as part of health class or home ec class.

  13. Now there is a whole new social frontier – online dating – and with it comes an entirely new set of potential land mines and pitfalls. The biggest problem is this: In the anonymous world of online dating, any one masquerade as ultra-cool. And more sinister than that, a sociopathic screwball can pretend to be the man/woman of your dreams.

    The physical cues we use in life – body language, dress, personal hygiene, tone of voice – the way we judge the truth of statements, are lost in cyberspace. Everyone lies a little when they start dating online. It's easy to be something you're not when a computer and countless miles of telephone lines separate you from the person on the other end of the e-mail. But a few white lies are nothing compared to the heartbreak and trauma a cyber-stalker or Net predator can cause. The dangers of online dating include theft, rape and death. While these threats may seem extreme, users who log in have anonymity and predators use online personas to lure potential victims. Online dating may be one of the fastest growing social interactions of the 21st century.

  14. Now there is a whole new social frontier – online dating – and with it comes an entirely new set of potential land mines and pitfalls. The biggest problem is this: In the anonymous world of online dating, any one masquerade as ultra-cool. And more sinister than that, a sociopathic screwball can pretend to be the man/woman of your dreams.

    The physical cues we use in life – body language, dress, personal hygiene, tone of voice – the way we judge the truth of statements, are lost in cyberspace. Everyone lies a little when they start dating online. It's easy to be something you're not when a computer and countless miles of telephone lines separate you from the person on the other end of the e-mail. But a few white lies are nothing compared to the heartbreak and trauma a cyber-stalker or Net predator can cause. The dangers of online dating include theft, rape and death. While these threats may seem extreme, users who log in have anonymity and predators use online personas to lure potential victims. Online dating may be one of the fastest growing social interactions of the 21st century.

  15. I find it hard to WHOLEY agree with Justin's position on advising juveniles to immediately delete explicit photographs. Overall I'm on your side and feel in certain instances this is sound advice. I completely understand your position and agree the legal system needs work in this area. If college students fear they would be labeled a snitch if the tell on their fellow students for cheating in class, how can we believe middle and high school students will "Tell a trusted adult" when confronted with something of this nature…

    There are times when notifying law enforcement is beneficial. Not only to limit the victimization, but also to educate the "offender(s)". It is difficult to discern when to contact law enforcement and who in law enforcement you should contact versus when to simply delete the photograph.

    Officers working within the school buildings should be the first point of contact. They are receiving specific trainings on these types of investigations. They are taught that even though a crime may have technically occurred, it doesn't necessarily mean someone should be charged with a crime. More often than not charges aren’t brought to the attention of the district attorney’s office. The main goal of the school resource officer is to limit the exposure of the victim and distribution of the image. If the distribution was relatively small, ~ 1 – 20, then gather, delete, counsel, and move on with life. If the distribution list was large or photos have since been re-sent to other friends then gathering the photos becomes much more difficult. This doesn't automatically mean someone is getting charged with a felony. There are too many factors to consider.

    It is important that images that are widely distributed be collected by police and submitted to The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). They will give the image a specific identifying number that is traceable whenever it is downloaded. Investigators are able to follow these images and catch the real criminals in child pornography, the adults who knowingly and voluntarily download these images. Law enforcement is best suited with the ability to limit the distribution.

    As a school resource officer, my advice to kids has been: TELL ME so I can obtain a copy of the image and investigate its origin. Then I have them delete it to prevent further distribution. I also ask who else might have a copy so I am able to follow where the images have been sent in order to have them deleted as soon as possible. If I'm told right away, there's a better chance of limiting the distribution.

    The easy answer to the question Justin posed is… There is no easy answer. As a parent I find it easiest to tell my child to delete and respond back to the person who sent the text with, "Don't ever send me anything like that again." As an investigator I want the images so I can delete ALL copies of that image. You must decide what you feel is best for you.

    Keep up the good work with this valuable and informative website!

  16. The key to preventing sexting is to educate youth. We just had an incident at my HS where an 18 y.o. had over 140 pics of his 15 yo gfriend! I spoke with the girl and she said she never thought about what could happen and basically the whole teen "IT can't happen to me". I think parents also need to be informed. Digital life changes so fast… educators are having a hard time keeping up.

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