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Talking to Teens About Sending Intimate Photos

teen sexting

As a parent, one of the things that can cause significant stress and anxiety is the thought of someone finding something negative online about your teen. This could include content posted on social media that’s negative or even intimate photos. 

While most teens don’t share sexually explicit photos, some do, and when they do, there can be a host of consequences. 

For parents, it’s important to proactively be able to talk to your teen about sharing intimate photos or having certain types of digital conversations. 

The following are some key things to know and consider. 

1. So-Called “Sexting” is Illegal

If you’re the parent of a teenager and they’re under the age of 18, if they’re sending or receiving nude photos or videos, it’s illegal. The material is classified as child porn, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the use of technology—it’s about the material itself. 

Under federal law, it’s illegal to access, possess, transmit, publish, control, obtain or supply child pornography. The specifics of the law can vary between states. 

If you have a 15-year-old child who’s sending nude videos to another young person that’s a similar age, this means both parties are participating in child pornography according to the law. 

2. The Risks

Along with legal risks, teens need to understand all the other risks that exist if they share intimate photos or other types of content themselves. 

One risk is that if someone receives a photo or video, there’s no guarantee they won’t forward it to someone else or even multiple people. This widens the scope of who sees it and also who might post it in other places. 

Also, if your teen takes an intimate photo, it’s stored on their hard drive. If their phone’s media automatically backs up, the photos stay in cloud storage even if they’re deleted. 

This puts your teen at risk of being hacked. 

There have been instances of hackers accessing these types of photos and then blackmailing victims to get money. 

3. Understand Why Your Teen Might Engage in This Type of Activity

There are many reasons teens sext. They might want to explore their sexuality or show affection for someone, for example. Peer pressure might outweigh both of these reasons, though. 

There’s a tendency even in the media to portray sexting and sending photos and videos as something that all young people do. It makes teens feel like there’s something wrong with them if they’re not doing it. 

While the portrayal in the media might say otherwise, a study in the Journal of American Medicine found only 1 in 7 teens in the U.S. had sent sexts, and 1 in 4 had received one. It seems like a lot, but still, it’s probably a smaller percentage than teens might feel is the case. 

4. What is Revenge Porn?

As a parent, it’s also important to know not just about sexting and the risks it can create but also about nonconsensual porn, known as revenge porn. This is when there’s a distribution of intimate photos or videos without consent. 

While the term used is revenge porn, it’s not always a revenge-based motivation. For example, many of these cases involve people who don’t know each other. 

Nonconsensual pornography can include intimate photos that someone took and were then stolen or hacked. It can also include sexual videos or images willingly shared with another person that was supposed to stay private. 

If you’re the parent of a teen and they discover their images online, you’ll need to contact law enforcement because it’s a crime. You can also send what’s called a DMCA takedown request. DMCA stands for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This regulates the reproduction of copyrighted material. While you do need to work on the criminal component of the pictures being shared, you also want them to be taken down as quickly as possible. 

5. Consent and Sexting

You’ll need to have conversations with your teens about issues surrounding sexting and nude photos because, unfortunately, it’s a part of life for modern, digitally connected young people. 

As part of these conversations, you need to talk in detail about consent. Your teen needs to know they have the right to say no to any and everything. Before any sexting happens, even when they’re an adult, everyone should consent. 

This applies to sending these photos—you need to teach your teen never to send an unsolicited photo. 

You should also reinforce that sending or receiving photos or videos doesn’t mean there’s automatic consent to share them with others. 

Consent can be revoked at any time. Let your teen know that even if they send a single sext, it doesn’t mean they have consented to continue and vice versa. 

6. Criminal Claims

Whether someone has a criminal claim related to sharing of intimate videos or photos depends on the state where the victim and perpetrator live and what age the victim was when the photos were taken. 

Again, if your teen is under the age of 18, they are considered a minor. Therefore, it’s a child pornography case, which is a very serious crime. 

Every state has its own statutes regarding child pornography, and punishments are very harsh. The offender can be punished at both the state and federal levels. 

Even if the photos were taken when someone was an adult, they might still have a criminal case. Most states have explicit laws against nonconsensual porn, and perpetrators may have to pay fines and jail time. 

7. Talking to Your Teen

It’s an awkward subject to discuss with your teen, but as a parent, none of these topics are things you can avoid. 

Try to speak to your kid in a relaxed setting. You want to approach it conversationally and non-confrontationally. Ask your teen what they know about the topic and what they would feel like if they were to have intimate photos of themselves shared. When you have a two-way dialogue, your teen is more likely to feel comfortable talking to you and maybe more likely to take what you’re saying to heart.