Parenting Teenagers

How to deal with Teens and Sexting

Published: 18 Sep 2013
How to deal with Teens and Sexting

Sexting refers to taking nude (or semi-nude) photos or videos that are intentionally provocative or sexual and sending the pictures via mobile phone or internet.

Both adults and teens sext. And while adults seem to have significant and highly public problems with sexting, it seems that it is primarily seen as a young person’s problem.

How often does sexting occur?

Research indicates that between 20% and 33% of adolescents and young-adults aged 13-24 have posted nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves. Other estimates suggest that 4% of teens (aged 12-17) have sent “sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images of themselves to someone else via text messaging”, and 15% said they had received such messages.

What does Australian law say about sexting?

Australian Commonwealth and State laws treat sexting (for those under 18) as child pornography and child exploitation material. In 2005, laws were passed stating that those who produce sexts (under age 18), or who distribute them, or store them, via a mobile phone could be charged with child abuse crimes. Specifically, the provisions make it an offence to:

  • Use a carriage service for child pornography material (s 474.19) or for child abuse material (474.22);
  • Possess, control, produce, supply or obtain child pornography material (s 474.20) or child abuse material (474.23) for use through a carriage service.

These provisions were created in order to make child pornography illegal, rather than to stop consenting adolescents from turning each other on. In other words, adolescent sexting is arguably not child pornography (at least not when you ask teens, and not when peers are sharing their intimate secrets in a consenting and trusting relationship).

As it stands, these laws are presently being reviewed because of the various cases where teens have been charged for having nude images of peers on their devices, and been placed on sex-offender registers.

What are the consequences of sexting?

The primary concern centres around harm to the reputations (particularly for girls) who are involved in sexting. There is a very real threat that when adolescent relationships break down (as most inevitably will), private images may be shared widely and publicly as an attempt to exact revenge on the scorned lover. A study by technology security company, McAfee, found that sharing of private images is rampant once relationships rupture.

A further concern is that images can be accessed by those with disturbing motives.

In addition to the risk to digital reputation, recent studies have linked sexting to ‘high risk’ sex practices.

How do I talk to my teen about this?

There are two central things to focus on with teens around sexting issues.

  1. We need to know how our teens feel about this issue. How do we find out? We can read reports like the Young People and Sexting (2013) report. And we can ask them ourselves. What we’ll likely find is that they think:- it’s normal to send pictures,
    – it develops trust in a relationship, and
    – they feel that so long as it’s consensual everything’s fine.
  2. If you disagree, being disagreeable will be ineffective. So the second thing to do when talking with your teen about the issue is to ask questions – and lots of them. Ask about experiences their friends have had with sexting. Find out whether they feel private images of their own might be shared if they ever sent them. Ask them how they would feel if things got out of hand, and if their image ended up being shared. Find out what they would do if someone posted the link to tumblr, twitter, or any other social media platform.

Sexting Solutions

If you discover sexts in your child’s phone or email, you simply have to have that talk. Launching a scare campaign, confiscating devices, or threatening consequences will generally drive sexting behaviour underground. Instead, discussions like those outlined above, emphasising consequences of breaches of trust, legal consequences, digital reputation (and real reputation) are more likely to impact on behaviour – particularly if your skilled questioning and listening allows your teen to develop answers him or herself.

There are some practical things you should encourage your teen to do as well:

  • STOP. It really is dangerous
  • Remove any and all risqué pictures from all devices
  • Communicate with others who have images of you and ask them to remove them. (Do it digitally so there is evidence of the request.)
  • Google yourself from time to time to make sure you’re not showing up anywhere you shouldn’t in ways you shouldn’t.

Wrap up

It only takes a few seconds to create an image that gets shared enough to ruin a reputation. Talk with your teen about it.

Useful references:

Young People and Sexting, 2013 Report. Link

Relationship between sexting and sexual practises among young people. Link 


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