As children grow and develop, they become more interested in relationships and sex. One way they do this is through sexting. Sexting is the sharing and receiving of sexually explicit messages and nude or partially nude images via cell phone. Sexts may be sent as regular text messages through apps, like Snapchat, and WhatsApp or through online games. Teens may sext for a variety of reasons. They may be trying to establish intimacy with a boyfriend or girlfriend, impress a crush, or be funny. Others may feel pressured into sexting by online or offline boyfriends or girlfriends who may threaten to break up with them if they don’t send a picture.
Teens may not believe or be able to foresee a situation in which the person they send a sext to chooses to share that image with others. However, it does happen and the consequences can be academically, socially, and emotionally devastating.
Teens that sext may be at risk for things like sextortion, getting in trouble at school, being bullied or harassed, or, in extreme cases, getting in legal trouble.
By the Numbers
Most Teens Are Not Sexting
19.3% of teenagers have sent a sext message
34.8% of teenagers have received a sext message
14.5% of teenagers have forwarded a sext message
Mori, C., Park, J., Temple, J.R., Madigan, S. Are Youth Sexting Rates Still on the Rise? A Meta-analytic Update. Journal of Adolescent Health 70 (4). April 2022.
17% of kids have shared their own SG-CSAM
15% of 9- to 10-year-olds have shared their own SG- CSAM
Increased rates of initial shares were most pronounced among 9-10 year olds, young boys (aged 9-12), from 7% in 2019 to 18% in 2020
The GOOD news is that still, 75-80% of children are not sending in SG-CSAM!
What to Do
- If you take a revealing image of yourself:
- It could be lost if you misplace or lose your cell phone.
- It may be passed around without your permission. For example, an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend may share the sext to get revenge.
- People may bully or judge you because of the image. Some teens have been bullied so badly because of sexting images that they have been afraid to go to school.
- The person that receives the image might try to use it to blackmail you into sending more images or money
- You may get in trouble with your school or with law enforcement, especially if there is evidence of blackmail, bullying or forwarding without permission. Some teens have been suspended from class, sports teams and other activities. Others have been charged with a crime and had to complete community service or educational programs.
- Don’t forward anyone else’s picture or video. Imagine how betrayed you’d feel if this happened to you.
- Don’t ask or pressure anyone to share an image. Many teens send sexts because they’ve been asked to by a boyfriend, girlfriend or crush. But you shouldn’t ask anyone to take this kind of risk, especially if it’s someone you care about.
- Talk to a trusted adult if you receive a revealing image, are being pressured into sending one or have sent one
- Talk to your friends about being active bystanders by not resharing and saying something if someone else does
- Do not comply with blackmailing demands such as money or more images and report them
Talking About It
Children and teens may not take the first steps in disclosing to you an uncomfortable online interaction. If during this discussion you hear something that is startling to you, try to react calmly and continue listening. Remember, it is not the child who is at fault. Together you can report any inappropriate incident to the CyberTipline.
- Has anyone ever sent you a sext?
- Has anyone ever asked or pressured you to sext?
- Do you think it’s OK to forward “sexy” images? Why?
- What could happen to you if you send or forward a naked picture?
- What are some ways a private photo sent to one person could be seen by others?
- Expectations and family values regarding sex, relationships, and technology usage.
- The characteristics of a healthy relationship. Explain that any person pressuring them to sext isn’t someone they should trust.
- The rate at which information spreads. Emphasize that once an image is shared, it is out of their control and can stay around forever.
- The consequences they could face for sending or forwarding images.
- The importance of not asking for or forwarding sexts. Make sure they understand that forwarding sexting images is a major violation of trust and explain the risks that it poses to the person in the picture.
Once you've sent a message online, it's out of your hands. You can never truly take it back.
Your Photo Fate
Discussion Guide: Your Photo Fate
Season 2 of "Into the Cloud" tackles gaming and livestream safety, online enticement and blackmail, cyberbullying, and removing/reporting inappropriate content online. Ideal for kids 10 & under.
Into the Cloud - Season 2
Episode Guides: "Into the Cloud" Season 2
Tip Sheet: Talking to Teens About Sexting
Tip Sheet: Think Before You Send
Tip Sheet: You Sent a Sext, Now What?
 The Annual Bullying Survey 2017(Rep.). (2017, July). Retrieved February, 2019, from Ditch the Label website: https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/The-Annual-Bullying-Survey-2017-1.pdf
 Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J. W. (2015, October 21). Our latest research on cyberbullying among school students. Retrieved February 1, 2019, from https://cyberbullying.org/2015-data
 Pew Research Center, May 2018, “Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018