Worried about the dangers of teen sexting? We’ll put it bluntly — you should be. A 2018 sexting survey reported that one in seven teens regularly send texts, and one in four receives them. Over two years later, that number has surely increased.
New to the concept of sexting? Simply put, sexting is the sharing of explicit images, videos, or messages through electronic means. And for teens, those electronic means are smartphones and tablets. Think texting, but with naked photos — either full body or bits of the human anatomy. We know. Yikes.
You can thank Snapchat for the rise in teenage sexting. The smartphone app was designed to make it easy for users to share photos in a snap. But unlike other messengers, Snapchat deletes photos 10 seconds after they’re received, making it a sexter’s dream app.
Just one problem. Sexts sent via Snapchat can be easily shared, even after they’ve been “deleted” from the app. And what’s more, teens aren’t just using Snapchat to sext. They’re doing it through WhatsApp, iMessage, regular text, and more. And every sext that’s sent and received is one big problem waiting to happen.
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The 3 Big Dangers of Teen Sexting
- It’s permanent. They say everything on the internet is forever, and that’s completely true of pics. Send an inappropriate selfie to someone you don’t completely trust, and your pic could end up in the hands of strangers. The recipient might share the pic digitally or in person or post it on websites you didn’t even know existed. And even if the recipient is completely trustworthy, there’s still one more hidden danger. If the recipient saves the pic on their phone and someone hacks it, the pic is out there for anyone to see.
- It can be used for blackmail. No one likes being embarrassed. Unfortunately, bad apples know this, and they exploit it. In the wrong hands, a naked photo can be used to blackmail a teen — sometimes for money, sometimes for more naked pics or videos, and sometimes even for sex.
- It could lead to harassment or bullying. Kids can be cruel. And a compromising photo the wrong hands can lead to bullying and harassment, which can ultimately take a toll on a teen’s emotional health.
What Sexting Means for Future Sexual Behavior
If you’re worried that your daughter might be sexting and you’re concerned that it could lead to something more nefarious, you’re not overreacting. An analysis of 23 studies made up of over 40,000 participants uncovered that teenage sexting is associated with sexual activity, multiple sexual partners, lack of contraception use, delinquent behavior, internalizing problems, and substance use.
And the associations between sexting and these consequences were stronger among younger teens. That means the younger your teen starts sexting, the stronger these associations could be.
While teens might be engaging in sexting earlier than ever, there’s some good news for parents in all this. Sexting has become so prevalent that educators are responding. Several school boards are looking at adding sexting to their sex-ed curriculum if they haven’t already, with the goal of helping teens understand teenage sexting and its consequences.
What You Should Know About Teen Sexting and the Law
In the US, sexting laws vary from state to state. Some states have sexting laws on the books, including Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia. And a number of other states have proposed legislation on the books, including California, Massachusetts, Ohio, and South Carolina.
Each state law is different, with varying degrees of penalty and rules regarding minors sending and receiving. And sexting laws vary internationally. Because these laws can often be complex and unclear, it’s good to err on the side of caution and assume that sexting could lead to serious legal trouble.
The Most Popular Apps Used for Teen Sexting
While teen sexting on Snapchat ignited the sexting revolution, teens tend to use apps they’re most comfortable with to sext.
For example, if a teen prefers Instagram for chatting with friends (in addition to posting pics for public consumption), they might be implored to sext through Instagram’s chat feature. The same goes for Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and iMessage. Basically, if they use it for texting, they’ll probably use it for sexting.
But there is also a slew of apps that can easily facilitate sexting through chat — even apps that weren’t necessarily designed for chatting. Apps like TikTok, which allows users to share short videos with one another. Or Discord, which is popular in the gaming community and lets users share direct messages.
Bottom line? If you’re asking yourself, “How do I stop my daughter from sexting?”, you have a lot of apps to search through.
What to Do If You Suspect Your Teen Is Sexting
If you suspect your teen is engaged in sexting, there’s a good chance you haven’t spoken to your daughter or son about all the dangers associated with sending nudes. Or maybe you have, and they just don’t listen, because, well, they’re teens.
While your first instinct might be to freak out and ground your teen, it’s a good idea to sit down and have a heart-to-heart chat before you decide how to deal with teenage sexting.
Much like having sex, sexting is something teens often think about positively. But while teens might understand the potential dangers of having sex, like pregnancy or catching a sexually transmitted infection, teens often view sexting is just as innocuous as sending a text.
That’s why it’s important to let them know that there’s no such thing as risk-free sexting. No matter how safe you might think a photo-sharing app is, it’s easy for anyone to:
- Forward or share a sexual image
- Post it online
- Trade it for other sexual images
- Show it in person to friends
But if you’re a parent, you know that what you say often goes in one ear and out the other. That’s why many parents have found success in parental control apps like mSpy. When installed on a teen’s iOS or Android device, parents can find out what kind of images their teens are sharing and with whom.
The app lets you see your teen’s activity on social media apps like Instagram, Facebook, and Tinder. And you can even see the photos, videos, and other media stored on their device or shared with others. The best part? Your teen won’t even know you’re using it to keep them safe.
I Caught My Daughter Sexting. Now What?
Take a deep breath. The most important thing to realize is that you’re not alone. If there was a My Daughter is Sexting support group, it would number in the millions.
Teens send sexts. Teens receive sexts. And, unfortunately, sexting has quickly become an accepted part of adolescence. The most important thing to do is to help them understand the dangers of sexting, what it could mean for their future, and that much like sex, it’s OK to say no.
Why is sexting bad? As parents, we know. But teenagers just aren’t educated on the topic. If you can show your teen that you understand the peer pressure associated with sexting, provide them with guidelines on safe sharing online, and help them understand the consequences of child sexting, you might not have to worry about it happening again. And if you’re still worried, there’s an app for that.