What is it?

Sexting is sending or receiving sexually explicit content via a cell phone or instant messenger involving text, pictures, and videos. 

Is it illegal?

If you are under the age of 18 years old, sending or receiving sexually suggestive text or images are deemed child pornography. At present there are no laws or penalties specifically for Sexting. There is a judicial discussion about leniency for teens who as minors are no more than four years apart in age, who are in a dating relationship, and the sexting is consensual— not pressured or manipulated. Due to this not being the law, it is up to the prosecution and judge to make the final decision if the teen is charged. This means the charges could either be thrown out, or your child could be charge as an adult and required to be on the Sexual Offenders list for 10 years or more. 

Why is it bad?

  • There is a high chance that images will go “viral.” Though initially sent to one person, it can be shown or redistributed to the entire football team or 4th period geometry class within seconds. 
  • ‘Revenge Porn’: after breaking up with this person they could redistribute the images as a way to hurt the other partner. 
  • It’s creating a relationship of objectification and instant gratification

How can I prevent it?

Talk to your kids about sexting and why you do not want them doing it

  • Teens need to know what our expectations are for their behavior, but more importantly they need to know why we believe a rule is one they should follow. Give them the reasons, with the hope of when they are on their own they can make healthy decisions on their own from what they learned at home. 

Educate your kids about what a healthy relationship should look like

  • Hopefully they can watch their parents as models for a secure relationship. If it is not a model relationship, then talk with them about what it should realistically look like. Explain that the media does not show the amount of work it takes to make a relationship healthy. The media has also distorted what intimacy and love look like. Let them ask questions, and have a dialogue about what a dating relationship should look like, especially in high school. 

Help them avoid temptation

  • With limited impulse control and experiencing the highs of ‘love’ for the first time these are powerful and motivating feelings. I always say trust their heart and intentions but NEVER trust their hormones! Set them up for success and help them avoid being tempted i.e. no cell phone access in their room alone late at night, check their pictures/phone, have an open line of communication, and continue to discuss this and other topics related to dating relationships. 

Be engaged and intentional with your time and affection

  • Though our lil ones now look like lil adults, they are still our babies and still need our love and attention. If you are not giving it, then they, being designed to pursue being loved, will find it somewhere else. 

Be aware of the content they are listening to or watching as it contributes to perception of worth  

  • Because tweens and teens are exploring their identity and where they fit in, they are highly influenced by whatever is getting the most attention from others. Figure out what tv shows, movies, music, friends, and books they are spending time with. Ask them why they are drawn to it, or why is it so popular. Be genuine in your interest not judgmental, because you may discover a little more about why your child is drawn to it.  

Paige Clingenpeel

Teen Therapist working with teens and parents on TV, Radio, Web-Based Media, Blogs, and Print. Presently a monthly contributor to the women's parenting & marriage site, and host of TBN's Tween show iShine K'Nect. Paige also provides individual therapy at LifeSprings Counseling Center, and works at Parkview Health as a student assistant counselor assigned to Carroll High School. Paige is married to Ryan and has two daughters and two sons!