Preventing Youth Sexting

Feb 29 / Dan Keller

Youth sexting is a chronic activity that can lead to serious personal and possibly criminal consequences.  A recent survey found that 22% of teenage girls and 18% of teenage boys have taken nude or semi-nude photos of themselves and sent them to someone or posted them online.

Sexting is commonly defined as the act of sending or receiving sexually explicit images, videos or text messages using a smartphone, computer, tablet, video game or digital camera.


Studies have found that the majority of youth sexts are sent to a boyfriend or girlfriend as a fun and flirty message or as a “present”.


One of the basic concerns about sexting is that on the internet pictures can be forwarded and re-forwarded with the push of a button, to anyone with a smart device or computer.


It is illegal to possess, distribute, or manufacture pornography involving anyone under 18 years of age.  Subsequently, a teen or anyone else can be charged with a crime for sending, receiving, or creating a photo involving someone under 18 that appears to be sexually explicit or obscene.


The problem of youth sexting can be best addressed by parents or guardians.  Parents, however, need to understand the nature of the problem and what they should do about it.


What Parents Can Do


  • Collaborate with their child(ren) on rules for smartphones and other devices
  • Utilize apps that monitor their children’s phone usage
  • Ban phones from the bedroom
  • Teach their child(ren) that sexting is serious and considered a crime in many jurisdictions
  • Inform children that texts, images, and videos on the internet will remain there forever
  • Be on the lookout for excessive texting
  • Talk to their children about sex and keep open lines of communication


Sexting and the Law


  • Few young people are aware that taking, possessing, or sharing nudes of minors is usually illegal, even when the exchange is consensual.
  • Some states consider youth sexting to be a felony and will prosecute minors with a felony charge and possibly place them on a permanent sex offender list.
  • Twenty-six states treat consensual juvenile sexting as distinct from child pornography, often a misdemeanor punished by education.  The remaining states classify underage sexting as a pornography problem.


What Schools Can Do


  • Schools should address sexting by talking about what students can do to prevent it, the consequences for offenders, and how to support the victims of texting.
  • School counselors should stress an open-door policy for students to address concerns around sexting.
  • The messaging from school officials should be age appropriate, tailored to the grade level.
  • Schools need to stress a zero-tolerance rule when it comes to sexting.



What Law Enforcement Can Do


  • Some law enforcement agencies sponsor community forums on sexting, providing safety tips to adults concerned about teen sexting.
  • School Resource Officers, through life skills education programs, can inform teens about the dangers and consequences of sexting.
  • The concerns and prevention of teen sexting can be addressed at Neighborhood Watch meetings.
  • Law enforcement agencies can place information about sexting, particularly for teens and parents, on their website.
  • Law enforcement agencies can work with local PTA/PTOs to help make parents and guardians aware of youth sexting prevention tips and recommendations.


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