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Sexting: What You Should Know, How You Should Respond


Is your teen sexting!?


You’ve probably heard this question posed by an excited news anchor, teasing the next hour’s big story, but how much do you know about sexting? Would you know if your child was sexting? How would you handle that situation?

This week, we hear from a Project Specialist in NCMEC’s Exploited Children Division to get her take on sexting and how parents/guardians can help prevent it and respond to it.



The basics

 Sex + Texting = Sexting (verb), Sex +Text = Sext (noun).

Sexting most commonly refers to the posting or sending of nude or partially nude photos of oneself to another user, usually via cellphone or app.

Sexting is not a behavior unique to teens. Quite the contrary, well-known politicians and Hollywood stars have also been caught in sexting scandals, but here at NCMEC, we deal specifically with online exploitation concerning children, and when a teen’s (read: minor) sexual image goes online, we may receive a CyberTipline report.
Why do people sext?

People sext for a variety of reasons. They may be:

  • Exploring their sexuality by sharing with a boyfriend/girlfriend
  • Trying to be funny
  • Trying to impress a crush who may or may not have asked for the picture.

Some people send sexts willingly. Sometimes, people may send a sext after being bullied or coerced into sending them. In other cases, sexually explicit images are captured without consent by taking screen shots, hacking into a webcam, or digitally altering images.

Many people, especially teens who, when in new/unfamiliar situations, tend to act impulsively and emotionally without thinking through longer-term effects, may not be aware of the dangers or consequences of sexting.

Teens who sext may face:

  • Humiliation or bullying at school and online if the image spreads or goes viral.
  • Sextortion: Or blackmail by someone threatening to distribute earlier sexts and sexual images if they don’t send more.
  • In some cases, even police involvement, which might result in criminal charges and/or mandated education programs or community service.

What to do if it happens

Luckily, most teens who have sent a sext do not have their image spread, get extorted, or end up with a court date, but helping teens understand the risks and what steps to take if they or a friend is facing negative consequences as the result of sexting is still important.  Here are some key things to discuss:

  • Help them understand healthy sexual relationships- Understanding that positive relationships are built on mutual trust and respect is important for teens to realize as they begin exploring dating, relationships, and sexuality. Make sure they understand that they have the right to say no to anyone trying to pressure them into doing something that they aren’t comfortable with. 
  • Talk about the risks of sending sexts- They likely sent the image in confidence, not thinking that it could ever be shared or used against them. The best way to avoid these risks is to not send explicit images.
  • Advise them to document any and all harassment- When reporting cases of sextortion, it’s invaluable to have evidence of the harassment. That means making sure children know how to save any messages, images, or files the extorter sends through a website, app, or text message.
  • Review steps for reporting the extortion- Beyond documenting the harassment, victims should block the extorter’s accounts and report the threats directly to the website or app where the harassment is happening. A report should also be made to local law enforcement and NCMEC’s CyberTipline
  • Help minors remove their content from the internet: Visit to get step-by-step directions about contacting sites and Apps like Google and Snapchat about flagging and removing sexually explicit content featuring minors.
  • Be part of a strong support system- Many victims of sextortion feel a sense of guilt or shame, especially when they may have sent the initial sext willingly. Try to be empathetic to the situation and focus on problem-solving for the present and future rather than dwelling on the past mistake.


Sexting is a delicate but important topic to cover. NCMEC, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Justice, has created a PSA to illustrate just how dramatic the consequences of sexting and sextortion can be.  Additionally, the NetSmartz video “Your Photo Fate”  takes a look at the way a personal photo can spread online, the consequences for both the sender and the recipients of the image, and provides resources for those whose image may already be out there.

Sexting and sextortion are topics that some teens may find difficult to talk about with adults. NetSmartz has resources for both adults and teens that can help begin the conversation.

The tip sheet “Talking to Teens About Sexting” goes over the risks of sexting and provides sample conversation starters to engage teens in a discussion around the topic.

Additionally, the tip sheet “Think Before you Post” serves to remind teens of the potential consequences of sending sexually explicit images. Additionally, you may want to make the “You Sent a Sext, Now What?” tip sheet available for those whose images may already be out there. This tip sheet reviews steps that can be taken to contact websites and apps about removing the content, how to report sextortion, and ways to find support during what can be a stressful time.

For more information about sexting and sextortion, visit, and to view the full breadth of free prevention resources available from NCMEC, visit

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