FFFSexting and Teens

No. 142; May 2024

Sexting is the act of sending sexually explicit messages, images, or videos, typically via a smartphone. Sexting among older adolescents is common with roughly half of young adults admitting to having done so as teens. Taking an interest in sex is normal and healthy among older children and teens.

Teens sext for different reasons, including:

  • To please a romantic partner
  • Because they feel pressured to do so
  • To deepen a connection
  • For sexual enjoyment
  • To feel better about themselves

Sexting may seem harmless to adolescents, but there are important risks to consider and discuss. Sexting can have negative consequences, including:

  • A picture or video is shared or posted without the sender’s consent (sometimes considered “revenge porn”)
  • The sender feeling regret or shame
  • Public embarrassment or bullying
  • Legal consequences
  • Blackmail (sometimes called “sextortion”)

Consequences vary based on the age of the child and the situation. Older adolescents who sext are more likely to do so with a peer with whom they have a romantic relationship, which has a lower risk for negative outcomes. However, younger adolescents who sext are more likely to do so outside a relationship or under pressure, which often leads to negative consequences.

Sexting by minors may be considered distribution of child pornography, a criminal act. Teens who send pictures of themselves are rarely subjects of criminal prosecution, but those who pass on pictures of others are more likely to face legal consequences. Adults sending sexts to or requesting them from minors below the legal age of consent is never okay and should be reported to child protective services or police.

Adolescents need support and education to learn about safe sexual relationships and texting. Parents should talk to their children about:

  • What sexting is
  • What the risks of sexting are
  • How to handle pressure to sext
  • What to do if a child receives a sext

By developing open, honest, and ongoing discussion about online communication, sex, and consent, parents can help their children learn about healthy relationships. If you have concerns about your child’s sexting behavior, talk to your primary care physician, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, or other qualified mental health professional.