6 Things Every Teen Needs to Know About Sexting

Young woman using smartphone
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Today's teens are always connected. They live out their lives online and in the public eye. They share photos on Instagram, tweet live from concerts, and message their friends instead of calling.

However, sometimes teens don't make wise choices about what they're posting, sharing, or texting. Unfortunately, one impulsive decision can affect their lives for years to come.

To some teens, sending sexually explicit content is a normal way to interact with their peers. They see nothing wrong with sexting, especially if “everyone is doing it.” Meanwhile, other teens sext because they view it as a joke or feel pressured to do so.

Although statistics on sexting varies, a report in the June 2019 edition of JAMA Pediatrics revealed that at least one in seven teens engages in sexting. Meanwhile, as many as one in four teens receive sexually-explicit texts and emails.

Yet many teens don't realize that sexting has serious consequences. A Drexel University study found that the majority of teens aren't aware of the legal ramifications of underage sexting.

Here are six major dangers of sexting. Be sure your teen knows them.

Sexting Constitutes Child Pornography

When nude pictures or partially nude pictures involve minors, many states consider this child pornography. Although state laws vary, in some states exchanging nude photos of minors also is considered a felony—even when the photos were taken and shared are consensual.

In some cases, the teen taking or sharing the photo can be charged with disseminating child pornography. Meanwhile, the teens receiving the photo can be charged with possession of child pornography, even if they didn't request a copy of the photo.

What’s more, teens can be labeled sex offenders for sending or possessing sexually-explicit photos of other teens. There have also been cases where teens were even charged with a crime when the photos in their possession were of themselves.

Yet as many as 61% of teens don't realize that sexting is considered child pornography. They said that if they'd known, it probably would have deterred them from sexting.

It Can Involve Bullying

Once a sext is in cyberspace, your teen loses all control over the image. People can share it, copy it, and use it to sexually bully your teen.

One example of sexual bullying is known as slut-shaming. Teens make assumptions about your teen’s sexual activity and then bully them for it. They also make assumptions about your teen’s reputation.

Cyberbullies might even share the photo to embarrass and humiliate your teen. They might also use the photo to impersonate your teen.

It Exposes You to Sexual Predators

There is no way to control who sees the photo once your teen sends it. There are countless cases where a teen discovers that a private photo has been passed around and sometimes even shared online.

Once the photo is online, sexual predators may see it. This puts your teen at risk of being sexually exploited.

It Holds the Risk of Blackmail

Sometimes when teens send a nude photo during an impulsive moment, they are later at risk for being blackmailed. There have been cases where the recipient of the image threatens to shame the sender.

Many teens who receive these types of threats give in to the blackmailer's demands. Often, they are too embarrassed to ask for help and are at the mercy of the blackmailer for a long time.

Sexts Never Go Away

Sometimes teens believe that photos sent through text message, email, or even on Snapchat will only be able to be viewed by the recipient. But once sent, these images are out of your teen's control. They can be shared, copied, and re-posted.

Even images shared using Snapchat put a teen at risk. Teens have learned how to copy images and save them before the app deletes them. Lives have been ruined by photos sent via Snapchat.

It Has Reputation Consequences

Sending sexually explicit messages to another person is never a good idea, no matter how serious the relationship. Photos like these can potentially damage or destroy reputations.

For instance, the person receiving the photos might brag about them and show them to other people. Or they might share them after the two of them break up. This can be humiliating and embarrassing.

It also could lead to bullying, slut-shaming, and name-calling. These images can even ruin your teen’s online reputation. People may form opinions about your teen just by seeing the photos.

A Word from Verywell

Educate your teens on the legal and emotional consequences of sexting. By teaching them about the risks involved, you may deter them from engaging in the behavior at all.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Mori, Camille, et al. Association of sexting with sexual behaviors and mental health among adolescents: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatrics. 2019;173(8):770–9 doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.1658

  2. Drexel University. Majority of minors engage in sexting, unaware of harsh legal consequences.

  3. Cyberbullying Research Center. Sexting laws across America.

Additional Reading

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.