07 Jan Help! I Caught My Teen Sexting. Now What?
You’ve heard about it happening to other families, but you never thought it could happen to you. You have taught them well; you’ve read all of the articles about preventing teen sexting and you’ve had the hard talks. You’ve even censored their phones and made a family media agreement. However, it’s true – teen sexting doesn’t discriminate.
What is teen sexting?
According to a study published by the American Medical Association, more than one in four teenagers reported that they’d received a sext, defined by the study as a sexually explicit image, video, or message that is sent electronically. Teen sexting is defined as the sending or receiving of nude or seminude images or sexually explicit text messages and can happen when one person pressures another to send a nude or seminude photo.
Why engage in teen sexting?
According to the American Medical Association, this scenario can happen between people who are dating. Or, it may happen among a couple who just started to like each other and one teenager is asked to “prove” they like the other person. Sexting may also involve sending nude photos without asking for consent first. This act may lead to the spreading of images or messages so that others can see them as well. For example, if a relationship ends; if a couple is fighting; or someone borrows a phone, these images can, and will, spread like wildfire. According to CNN, researchers have found that younger people engage in sexting in large part as a way to begin exploring attraction to other people. Kids may also assume that their safety is a given within specific apps, when in fact, that is not the case.
It happened. Now what?
It happens to families of all shapes and sizes, and now it’s happened to you. It doesn’t make you a bad parent, and it certainly doesn’t make your kid a bad kid. Don’t fret, here are six steps to help guide you as you confront this issue:
Step 1: Don’t explode at your teen.
Sit down and have an honest conversation with your teen. Although it may seem impossible, table your anger, distress, and disappointment. At this point, it is important to get all of the information from your teen so that you can intervene. If you scream and yell, your teen will shut-down, and you won’t get all of the information.
Step 2: Get all of the information without shaming your child.
This is best done by asking open-ended questions and letting them do the talking. It will be important to find out who the image(s) were sent to and when. How many other people saw the image(s)? What was the context? Did your teen have a breakup? Were they pressured by someone? Was there someone over the age of 18 involved?
Step 3: Acknowledge the psychological impacts of teen sexting.
According to kidshealth.org, the psychological impacts of sexting should not be underestimated. Your teen could be at risk of humiliation and public ridicule. Even worse, it could damage your teen’s self-image and even lead to depression. Withhold your judgment and criticism and instead, be available for your child. You can deal with the after-effects soon enough.
Step 4: Discuss potential legal consequences of teen sexting with your child.
According to the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, any type of nude photograph, taken or shared with sexual intent, of a child under the age of 18 is illegal and considered child pornography. Any sharing of that photograph may be considered trafficked or distributed child pornography. So, even if your teen sent a picture of themselves to someone else, that could be considered distributing child pornography. If the pictures on your teen’s phone are of another teen, that can also be considered being in possession of child pornography. And, if an adult has been sending and receiving pictures from your teen, this may constitute a crime.
Some experts advise that you report the photo to your local police. Beforehand, consider that while intending to protect your child, you could incriminate another and possibly your own child. If you’re concerned about legal implications, consult with an attorney and/or law enforcement right away. Additionally, you may want to consider contacting the school if it happened on school grounds or during school hours.
Step 5: Provide consequences and set clear expectations moving forward.
Having legal consequences may seem like enough deterrent. However, after the dust has settled, it is crucial that your child knows where you stand on this matter, and that you do not condone this type of behavior. For example, you may choose to take your child’s phone away and agree to periodically review it at your discretion.
Step 6: Make an appointment with a therapist.
If you’re concerned about the way your teen is expressing their sexuality or you feel like sexting has negatively impacted your teen’s well-being, talk to a therapist. Some teens develop symptoms of depression or anxiety after humiliation or difficult situations. If you’re concerned about your child’s wellbeing and emotional health, have them talk to a therapist. The process of preventing teen sexting doesn’t end now. Here, at North Shore Family Services, there are a variety of experienced therapists that are ready to partner with your family as you move forward.
North Shore Family Services is a team of skilled and approachable therapists that help parents, children, teens, adults, and couples reduce anxiety and stress, learn effective problem-solving techniques, and manage emotions and behaviors that inhibit personal, school, family, and relationship success. We make therapy a productive, engaging and relaxing place for everyone to work hard and make the improvements they desire. To find the right-fit therapist for you and your family, visit our clinician’s page.