You Received a “Sext,” Now What? Advice for Teens

You Received a "Sext," Now What? Advice for Teens Cyberbullying Research Center image 2

If you are a teen and receive a sexually-explicit image of a classmate via your cell phone (or email, or instant message, or via a Nintendo Dsi, or any other type of electronic communication), what should you do? This can be a challenging situation, to say the least. We know that anywhere from 10-30% (or more) of teens have received such images, and many probably don’t know what to do. You have no doubt seen the examples in the media of teens being cyberbullied, arrested, or even committing suicide as a result of bad decisions involving the circulation of nude personal pictures. My thoughts here are intended to provide you (youth) with a specific and simple strategy to help avoid any of these consequences.

If you do receive such an image, odds are that it was sent by a good friend (or a boyfriend or girlfriend). As a result, you probably don’t want to get this person into too much trouble, but you also know that peddling in these kinds of pictures is probably not going to lead to great things in life (because if you think about it, it is highly inappropriate, morally wrong, and potentially illegal). So what do you do? Well, most adults might advise you to “tell an adult you trust.” This is generally good advice for a lot of problems you run into, however in the case of a naked photo of an under-aged youth, this can be devastating for all involved. For example, if you show the image to a teacher, he or she is likely required by law to report it to the police. Teachers who don’t can lose their teaching license and/or be fired. If they don’t know what to do and seek guidance from a fellow teacher, they could get into even more trouble. For example, if you hand your cell phone with the nude image over to the teacher, and he or she shows another teacher, both teachers (and you) could be charged with “possession” of child pornography since they had possession of your phone. That’s because the police often treat these images as child pornography – irrespective of the intent of the sender or the relationship of those involved. This means that if you take the picture, you can be charged with the “creation of child pornography.” If you send or forward the pic, you can be charged with “distribution of child pornography.” If you keep it on your phone, you can be charged with “possession of child pornography.” In some cases you could even end up on state sex offender registries.

My advice to teens who receive a nude or semi-nude image of a classmate is simple: immediately delete it. Don’t tell anyone about it. If there is an investigation and someone asks if you received the image, you should tell them yes, but that you immediately deleted it. If necessary, they can get your cell phone records from your service provider, and search the contents of your phone, which will show that you deleted it within seconds of receiving it. This is the best situation for you. Of course, some adults aren’t going to like this advice because they want to be in the “know” to attempt to deal with the problem, but I think it is the only safe advice I can offer youth at this point.

The primary goal in sexting incidents is to limit the victimization of the person portrayed in the image. If the individual(s) who initially received the image immediately delete it, there would be no distribution and victimization would be minimized. Be sure to tell your friends that it is in their best interest not to hold onto or send these kinds of images. It just isn’t worth the potential long-term and irreversible consequences to your (and their) reputation.

If you find out that your friends are continuing to distribute naked pictures of themselves or others, you would be wise to let them know how such behavior can seriously mess up their future. Strongly encourage them to stop and to delete the images. If you are concerned about the well-being of the person depicted in the images, you may want to anonymously report the behavior to your school (if there is a way to do this).

We have said it many times on this blog, but it bears repeating here that neither Sameer nor I are attorneys, so you should not interpret this blog as formal legal counsel. We are simply looking out for the best interests of teens and those who interact with them. Stay tuned for a follow-up post in the near future on what teachers should do if a student tells them (or shows them) a sexting image involving a student.

Postscript: I offer additional thoughts on this topic in the next post, which you can read here.


    • never or less about sexting it is cyberbullying, pornography and it is against the law plus never respond to it and also tell a parent immediatly it is never cool to have a sexted photo!! THUMBS UP IF YOU AND/OR PEOPLE IN YOUR COMMUNITY IS AGAINST BULLYING AND SEXTING!!

  1. QUESTION: What steps do you recommend when finding out your child has SENT the sext message rather than RECEIVED it? (Besides private displinary actions at home, of course).

    As a parent, I have found a LOT on SEXTING prevention and education regarding 'receiving' or keeping sexting messages. I found very little on what a parent should do if finding out your 16yo teen sent her own SEXT message (full nudity) to a 18yo boyfriend. (Evidence was found when I personally reviewed her sent box). I understand since the boyfriend is over 18, and sent from my daughter who is a minor, he is the 'victim' and my daughter would be looking at a felony (rather than a misdemeanor, since the alleged child-porn was sent to an 'adult'). Does anyone have any more insight on this?

    • RJ:

      I'm a parent, too. I can tell you that I have teens too, so please trust me, as I'm sure this is the best you can do, even though this didn't happen here.

      My best advice, to be honest is:

      Leave it alone. Leave the whole thing as-is. Don't even make your daughter aware you know it.

      Maybe you think I'm crazy, but I seriously think that at 16, your daughter is mature enough.

      I'm gonna also say, that you should also not review her box any more. Let the girl have some privacy.

      Leave the whole thing alone. You're gonna do more harm than good if you go ahead with any other action you may be thinking about.

      Also keep in mind, she needs to enjoy her sexuality. There are many ways in which she can do it. This is a fully respectable one.

  2. Sexting is something I believe everyone is aware of but just not by that actual name. And I could just imagine how many individuals when having a hot new relationship committee this type of act. Sexually explicit message I believe has become a part of relationships and is now a huge trend with teenagers. And although many individuals have been charged with distribution of child pornography many others have been charged with possession also. Some states have proposed to lessen the penalty for sexting between two consenting minors and to make sexting a misdemeanor. But it is still a felony for a child to send these types of messages which could possibly get an individual placed on the states sex offender registry. I somehow totally disagree with penalties for sexting when it comes to adolescences. Although I do believe that for any crime if an adult is willing to charge a child with such a crime they should make it a point to educate them about the consequences first. Maybe if society takes the time to inform adolescences about the possible consequences then maybe this will lessen the violators.

  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. I found a very interesting article that talked about how serious sexting can turn into. Before when teenagers in high school like somebody a note was sent; now they start sending nude pictures. Something very sad about this article was the fact that teenagers have lost all respects about others people's privacy. For example, if a guy has a girlfriend during the summer, this guy would show all his friends nude pictures of this girl. I mean come on, she sent YOU those pictures not your friends. This article also talks about different 17, 16 years old guys that are facing long time in prison because posting nude pictures of their ex girlfriends. Teenagers think this is a joke or a revenge kind of thing if you girlfriend did you wrong, but they need to understand this is serious the consequences are serious. You might start posting nude pictures of other people as a joke, but you life can be permanently affected. Like in the case of a 17-year-old (in Wisconsin) who was charged with possessing child pornography after he posted naked pictures of his 16-year-old ex-girlfriend online. Teenagers need to be educated about what simple things like sexting can turn into.

  5. Technology has advanced in such a way that benefits us all. However, the abuse of this same technology has harmed as well. It is really nice how we all can easily access to a computer to navigate in the Internet to do homework, stay in touch with others and make our lives easier. Cellphones are a great tool because it keeps us closed to family and others. However these two same great tools have been misused hurting out society. Computers are the most common, in my opinion, cyberbullying tool; when using computers people have access emails, chat rooms, rating websites, online gaming, instant messages, facebook and myspace. A bully would usually send a message through internet harassing the victim. Other way is through cellphones using text massages and picture messages. This is just an example to demonstrate how technology is something to be awarded of to use it wisely. a In chapter 2 we learn that Schools play an important role in teenagers develop. Bullying occurs in other places but cyberbulling is related with Schools. Cyberbulling has some specific issues. One is Anonymity, technology offers the opportunity for bullies to maintain anonymous or sometimes to use fake identities. Another issues is the lack of supervision. A very common situation is when parents lack this supervision because the lack of computers skills. In many occasions teenagers know a lot more about computers than their parents. Virtual natures refers to the easily access to spread a message in only seconds. Limitless victimization risk refers to how one can be humiliated and have no escape. In this chapter I learned about others common forms of cyberbullying. Photoshopping is when they crop your picture and set it on other background making a fake illusion of a wrong doing. Happy-Slapping combines the regular bullying with cyberbullying. This is when some one is getting physical harassed and recorded at the same time. Then this video goes online where millions of people can access it. I have learned through this chapter that cyberbullying is actually more serious than what i thought. Cyberbullying can cause physical harm offline which is extremely serious even when it involves other people than the victim. It is very sad to see how things that are supposed to be fun and for our benefit can be turn into something really bad and even sometimes evil.

  6. Sexting is the sending or receiving of nude or seminude pictures. This usually starts in romantic relationship but some how these pictures find their way to the hands of others. Recent studies show that every 3 out of 4 teenagers own a cell phone. Teenagers send and receive and average of 3000 text messages a month. These statistics seem to increase and increase. There have been some formal and informal responses to this matter. Criminal prosecution against teenagers who engage in sexting is an option. However, there have issues about the ages to be prosecuted and controversy among the different laws that were created to protect teenagers from adults. Schools also have an important role in this problem. Adults need to learn how to quickly react when they face sexting. Teachers and school stuff should work with other school resources to collect any evidence and investigate the matter. Student and parent should be contacted. It also suggests that districts have their own anti-sexting policies. However, it is also learn that not only policies and rules can prevent this matter even thought they play am essential key. Education is very important. Teenagers need to be taught how to use technology its disadvantages and advantages. The goal should be to change perceptions. It perfectly shows the mentality these teen girls have. It is really sad that young girl do these things. However, in my opinion I believe what it is the worst is the fact that they think is normal. Like it was mention on the first article, a switch of perception is very needed here. Teen girls should not think or have these kinds of beliefs. The third article is moreeeeee upsetting. To be honest, I did not even want to finish reading it. That picture of these girl dresses like that really bothered me. In my opinion this whole sexting problem needs to start getting prevented way before middle school. If parents allow these little girls dress like this how can they not expect worst things as these girls grow up.

  7. It's hard to limit the victimization of a person who falls victim to sexting. The obvious precautions to take when participating in online activities would be – be careful what you send, and to whom you send it to. Victims of sexting continue to be re-victimized every time they see or hear of the photos. I was so intrigued by the idea of re-victimization because I never really thought about it before. Victims of cyberbullying face serious psychological harm because they’re constantly reliving their experience. These acts – regardless of if it’s teasing a classmate or circulating photos – have longterm effects (on the victim). In an odd way, it seems like a never-ending cycle: the victim gets cyberbullied, they try to overcome their victimization, but they end up re-living it. The best advice would be to delete the picture immediately.

  8. Sexting has become a major issue in todays schools and society. Growing up in the 90s and having my very first cell phone in 2002 sexting was never heard of. Now with the enhancement of technology and the creation of todays "smartphones" sexting seems to be the norm. As normal as it is for some to send their friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, etc naked pictures, sexting has become a crime. Young teens are getting arrested for posting pictures and even receiving pictures from others. The problem is not only with the pictures but the lack of knowledge that these teens have regarding the consquences of sexting. I read an article that talked about a 16-year-old boy who is now facing up to seven years in prison for forwarding a nude photo of a 15 year old girl to his friends. Reading this article and many articles on sexting really sadden me that these teens would ruin their lives by forwarding pictures. I think todays teens and kids need to be educated on the risk they are putting themselves in by doing something as simple as forwarding pictures on their cell phones.

  9. A lot of people think, why would anyone send another person a naked picture of themselves? Well I can understand that logic. Look at the celebrities that claim to be mortified when their at home sex tape gets leaked or when they lose their phones and all of the sudden naked or semi-naked pictures of them surface. Now for naive, young kids who see these celebrities get more attention when stuff like this happens, to them it may not be such a big deal. To them the logic is look at Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian? They had picture/videos released which made them more famous and guys drool over them. Unfortunately we live in a society where sex sells. Even if teenagers don't distribute naked photos of themselves they could distribute provocative photos because they think they look "hot" which is just as bad.

    Female celebrities post provocative photos and they get millions of comments about how gorgeous they look. Average women do the same on social network websites and get a similar reaction. I haven't met a single female that can say they didn't like the attention they got when they posted a sexy picture and received like 157 comments about how gorgeous they look. Girls like to be told they're beautiful & sexy and blah, blah.. I'm not saying it's the right kind of attention and a lot of them know it but it doesn't stop them from doing it. So if grown women are doing this and they like it what about that 13-14 year old girl that got her woman body early? Adolescent females are having a bad enough time dealing with all these hormonal and physical changes that hearing or reading something that shows them acceptance and tells them they're pretty or sexy boosts their self-esteem no matter who it's coming from. Some girls may think that the picture is not that bad because they're not naked, but they forget their age. I had a friend in middle school that would change her clothes and put on make-up as soon as she got to school because her religious dad wouldn't allow her to leave the house wearing certain things.

    I think that a lot of young girls know they shouldn't sext or post provocative photos of themselves but they still do it because they don't think anything bad will happen and they like the attention. They've probably heard the stories but again they think something like that is not likely to happen to them.

  10. I am 48 years but I t fell that I am a very old woman. I have to learn so many things, that I would not like to know. When I was trying to write sexting , the program shows me that I was making an error. No, I have to add a new word to my Microsoft Word “Sexting”. When you use a cell phone to send nude or seminude pictures of oneself to others, you are Sexting. According to a national study released by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and is growing in regularity among teens across the country. Twenty percent of teens have sent or posted online seminude or nude images of themselves. A majority of these teens sent the pictures to a boyfriend or girlfriend; while a minority sent them to someone they wanted to date. Percentages were higher for young adults.

    I know that I own to you Prof Sameer more information about my daughter’s friend and her nude photos. As soon I know something new I will share it with you.

  11. My 11 year old daughter has been recieving im's from an adult male trying to get her to have sex with him.She has blocked him, but when I searched his name "Bredy Lampard" I couldnt find anyone…What can I do?

  12. As a parent, we all learn to protect our children to have safe surfing. My son only 14, but somehow those unappropriated adv just keep coming and i only checked his facebook activities once a week. Someone even tags their sexy pic or sent the naked cartoon japannese girl pic in my son's profile, but lastly i removed and re-edit his friends setting box. My son reset his new password but i told him i didn't mean to interrupted his privacy but just make sure he have a healthy social network.

  13. Why are people allowed to post naked pics of themselves for a profile pic?? Karla spice and other forms of her name are all naked pics? Young children are on here. Let’s keep it classy and shut these people down

  14. We all new what the internet can do. Could be a good thing or a bad thing. And this one is pretty obvious, it's a bad thing. Parents should beware of this. Let's guide and protect our children. We only want the best for them!

  15. Hi Anata.You need to report this person right away as theres a lot of people who go on farmville including teenagers.whats the name of this person as aso think his name should be made public so people dont click on farmville or anything else with this discusting person.

  16. If you want to keep your children safe, then learn to use a mobile phone and a computer and every other device your children are allowed to use, or do not allow them to utilize these communication devices. If you can’t do simple tasks like deleting porn, then you should not have a computer, or a mobile phone in your home.

  17. Disqus generic email templatedelete
    —– Original Message —–
    From: Disqus
    To: [email protected]
    Sent: Sunday, January 08, 2012 11:33 AM
    Subject: [cyberbullyingblog] Re: You Received a “Sext,” Now What? Advice for Teens

  18. my daughter is being unsafe on here, sexting many guys from age 14 to 20, she wont give me her passwaord and keeps changing her name on here, she goes by, Desiree Iwuvesyou wyman, dezz wyman, or Desiree cookie wyman, i am her father, and the one day she left it on, the desiree cookie wyman one, i saved some of the perverted sexting she was doing on here, she wont heed my warning, and im afraid she could get hurt, put an end to her F.B privalages, please help me save my daughter! and this is my 3rd or 4th time reporting her, shes sneaky, and needs help, but allowing her to get on here is not helping us, shes talking about suicide and cutting herself,PLEASE HELP ME!!!!!!!!

    • What is the cell phone carrier? We have parental guards set up on our daughter’s phone thru Verizon and just today we found out that she was sending naked pics of herself from our phone (husband and mine) after hours. So….we have blocked picture sending on ours too. If you don’t know about that, send message back and I will try to help. My daughter is doing what you have said too.

    • my daughter has 20 yr olds coming on here from video chat and the men are asking little girls to watch them be very disgusting and tell our little girls how to play back and ive even been notified by school that they have had it reported to fbi but the still havent banned facebook from our childrens school computers so you find away to have theses sick men and women paying for what they done please let me know im just a concerned parent also thank you and god bless

  19. I have just had a comment on my facebook page from my son who lives with his father in cootamundra nsw his father had been abusing me for most of our marrage. And becouse hugh has seen most of this he now abouse me and his little sister. He is under age to be on facebook and i have tried to get him taken off by the facebook team but it has not happen as yet. please help me i am sike of been bulled by him

  20. My daughter gave her boyfriend her password for facebook, now they are not together, he is now using her facebook to degrate her, vulger names, it has been 2 weeks now and i am not sure how to delete her page without losing her photos! can someone help me

    • You could try changing the email and password(s). Or you could download a copy of her profile, which is available by going to Account Settings. Then you could deactivate her account, but it would be activated again if logged into.

      It does say in the terms and conditions, though: You will not share your password, (or in the case of developers, your secret key), let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account.

  21. I recieved a message from an illegal Rx dealer who wanted to do sex chat with me. I have all the messages saved and can provide them if needed. I do not know how to contact Face Book directly to send them the conversation. I report the page and the person and the conversation several times. This is harassment please tell me how much further I can go with this. Involves soliciting Rx medications that are illegal to sell online w/o Prescription and want to have sex or sexual chat with me.

  22. my Daughter added a account with out my permission is there a way for me to deleted she wont give me the password. please help A.S.A.P

    • Did you recieve an answer to this I am trying to delete my 15 yr old daughters acct she continues to post provocative pics of herself

      • You should be able to go through the official Facebook abuse channels to get the problematic profiles shut down. You can also email us directly ([email protected]) with your daughter’s profile web address and we will personally contact Facebook to get it down if the content violates their Terms of Service (e.g., has sexual pictures, etc.). Let us know!

  23. my Daughter added a account with out my permission is there a way for me to deleted she wont give me the password. please help A.S.A.P

    • Did you recieve an answer to this I am trying to delete my 15 yr old daughters acct she continues to post provocative pics of herself

    • Minors posting, sending, and taking nude or sexually explicit pictures of themselves and sending them out IS morally wrong. Being a teenager is tough especially with all the hormones but it isn’t right for a CHILD who is unable to make adult decisions to be doing things like this. Worse still is the possibility of it eventually being leaked onto the Internet where a sexual predator can get ahold of it and stalk the child.

  24. Don’t tell anyone? Really? How about the people who pass the photos on to others out of spite…and pass them on to others…and post them as fake facebook accounts. Don’t tell anyone? People’s reputations are at stake, and maybe their lives…Encouraging them not to tell a teacher or trusted adult????

  25. Someone is posting trashy video virus on my F/B. I have changed my password multiple times, logged out, back in, over and over. But it still pops up. Please someone help me get this mess off my page.

  26. I am a parent of a 16 year old. he cotinues to recieve pop up requests fro datign sites. The adults offering these services are hardly dressed. What can I do to stop these pop ups from coming on his page.

    • Delete them ASAP, and end the problem with a period not a question mark. This is why them make if possible to delete unwanted actions via the internet.

  27. You should be able to go through the official Facebook abuse channels to get the problematic profiles shut down. You can also email us directly with your daughter’s profile web address and we will personally contact Facebook to get it down if the content violates their Terms of Service (e.g., has sexual pictures, etc.). Let us know!

  28. You should be able to go through the official Facebook abuse channels to get the problematic profiles shut down. You can also email us directly ([email protected]) with your daughter’s profile web address and we will personally contact Facebook to get it down if the content violates their Terms of Service (e.g., has sexual pictures, etc.). Let us know!

  29. My 16 year old daughter was asked to send pictures of her nude and I want her account shut down and I want the adult account shut down also. How can I reach someone to get this done.

    • You can report that person but also block that person from your daughters FB account. One bad apple shouldn’t punish your daughter from having her FB account she most likely has in order to interact with her friends. She should make her FB open only to friends she knows and there’s all kinds of ways she can make her life private not for the public to see. You can sit down with your daughter and go through the setting for her FB account together. And then check back and check these setting monthly with her. Explain you are just doing your duty as parent in protecting her from the harmful people out in the world. good luck.

  30. My 16 year old daughter was asked to send pictures of her nude and I want her account shut down and I want the adult account shut down also. How can I reach someone to get this done.

  31. I really like your advice here to teens on this subject. I think it is the best advice I’ve ever seen. It’s simple and straight forward and the end result is Teens discussing with their friends the damage that such messages can bring not only to them but their over 18 friends, parents, teachers and such. The less you have to deal with the police the better, and the only way for that is to not go places where you get yourself involved in activities that can hurt others, offend, and are illegal. In life it’s always better to try to deal with sensitive issues of this nature at ground level first. We all are accountable for our actions and can stop such things by setting examples, deleting, not holding onto such pictures. Talking about these issues and the legal problems they are sure to create for everyone is the mature way to squash a problem before it gets bigger..

  32. My daughter is 16yrs old. She keeps getting comments and messages from grown men (ages 30yrs +)from all aspects of the world. How can i report these men cause no matter how much you block them,they always find a way to get messages to her? One such person goes by the name of Sidh Sony.Fb need to find a way to protect our kids from perverts and paedophiles

    • You can report these people to facebook and have her print out any mesages or comments she gets to save the evidence of being cyberbullied.

  33. My teenage step son and some of his friends from school have been receiving sexts from someone going by the name of Leonel Murray. In the sexts it says this person will be in my step sons area on Sunday and they can get some drinks. It states that he can text if he wants to “do” them. This person sext my step son at 2:43 in the morning!! I told stepson to make sure to block that person on here but how to I report this PEDOPHILE????

  34. great advice, you must tell someone that it could potenetially ruin their lives. If you find out that someone is sending nude pictures tell them or someone else that could help them.

  35. It’s concerning that so many parents are intending to “monitor” their children’s accounts. The root of the issue is that many teens feel as if they are adult enough to have these types of relationships or want to portray online that they are mature or sexually desirable. Is it a parent’s nightmare? Absolutely. However, going behind your child’s back and deleting their account, breaking into it, or pilfering through their private (and they do a have right to privacy) things is not alright and it will do nothing to gain your child’s respect or trust. In fact, it will most likely worsen the problem and they will continue to do the behaviors you do not agree with. The article touched on a great point that teens should delete the photos if they receive them. Be honest with your children and tell them how you feel, that you don’t think this type of behavior is appropriate, and the legal repercussions. Give them the tools to make the decisions for themselves (like deleting inappropriate photos), and you’ll not only help your child achieve what you wanted in the first place, but they won’t lose trust in you, either.

  36. I am responsible for raising my child to be a respectable adult and teach her my morals & beliefs . Nothing about sexting is respectable in my opinion. Its sad that some parents have the "kids will be kids" attitude about everything. Those parents, at least where we live , are the ones with the worst kids, rude little brats that yell & boss their parents around. The parents buy their kids everything including iphones & they have no concept of what it means to work hard for what you want & respect people.
    My child is learning about the dark side cyber world that her "friend" exposed her to. She doesnt have a cell phone & isnt allowed to talk to boys outside of the classroom or unless my husband & I approve.She is 12 and has grown men sexting her & threatening her. Some of her texts were on the flirty side at first & now these predators have gone too far & she gave out my address once. The police in my town dont seem to care (Sacramento CA) so Im stuck trying to monitor everything. Any tech gadgets that anyone knows about would be helpful. With school starting soon & my daughter being at this point not trustworthy, I fear she will be lured in again by this same group of boy crazy girls that taught her how to create "fake" profiles so the parents dont find out….Until then I have to make sure that she is around adults I can trust to watch her because the school did a horrible job at it since this is where my daughter learned all this garbage….

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