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How to talk about sexting with your child

Few things are tougher than having The Talk with your child – but according to a report by the US National Institute of Justice, some children as young as twelve are sexting. That’s not as surprising as you might expect – in most children, puberty (and interest in sex) starts occurring at 10 or 11 years old, and since sexting has become a common form of self-expression among today’s youth, it actually makes sense that some of them would start doing it early.

Of course, this also means that you’ll need to talk with them about sexting as early as possible – either that or completely deny them access to a smartphone.

Let’s Start With The Facts

About 70% of all teens have sexted with their boyfriend or girlfriend – though some of them do it in various ways. Sexting is a term that encompasses a variety of actions, from statements about fantasies to explicit selfies sent to their partner.

Among boys, 77% have sent nude photographs specifically as a way of initiating sex with their girlfriend – which isn’t an inherently bad thing, but it does add a certain emphasis to the need to talk about it with your child. Girls tend to sext for more varied reasons – many of them do it as a joke, while others want to feel sexy.

Unfortunately, 61% of both genders sext because they feel pressured into doing so by their peers. The good news is that sexting is not associated with risky sexual behaviors – though it can lead to arrests if the content is shared too widely.

How To Talk To Your Child About This

The best time to talk about sexting is when you have the main Talk – and you can specifically explain what sexting is and how it fits into the overall changes your child’s body is going through.

What you shouldn’t do is specifically refuse to let them do it. One of the biggest problems with teens is that they’re outstanding at using technology – and if they want to sext with someone while hiding it from you, they’ll probably find a way to do it. This is a battle that you can’t win – but you can teach your child the best sexting behaviors.

Work the following into your conversation (and if you think you’ll have trouble remembering them, make a list and check them off as you go):

  • Spreading Images: Talk to your child about the way that people who receive sexts can share them with others. Most sexts are sent with the expectation of confidentiality – teens strongly disapprove of that material being shared without their permission, and knowing that 17% of sexts will be shared without permission can encourage them to hold off.
    A good rule of thumb is “If you wouldn’t want your teacher to see it, you shouldn’t send it.”
  • Consequences of Sexting: Teens don’t think of sexting as wrong – and they don’t think sending selfies is child pornography. The law disagrees. Your child should understand this before they start sexting – and they should also be told about the social consequences of sexting, including how negatively other teens might view them if content gets spread. Point out that it’s not fair for teens whose sexts are spread without the consent to be blamed for it, but that’s the reality they have to live with.
  • Peer Pressure: As we mentioned above, well over half of all teens feel pressured into sexting. Your child should know that they should never send a text or image that they’re uncomfortable with. They have the right to say ‘no’ when someone asks them to do something, and if they’re being pressured – especially by people they don’t know very well – then it’s time to stop.
  • Image Editing: Finally, you may want to talk to your child about the Photoshop Phenomenon – that is, the practice of editing images before posting them online or using them for sexts. Teens who excessively edit photographs may have deeper self-esteem issues, and the pressure to ‘look good’ while sexting could be making things worse. If this seems to be happening to your child, take some time and try to find other ways of improving their self esteem.


Article by Amy Williams.

Amy Williams is a freelance journalist based in Southern California and mother of two. As a parent, she enjoys spreading the word on positive parenting techniques in the digital age and raising awareness on issues like cyber bullying and online safety.

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