How to Prevent Teens from Sexting

Texting is a favorite pastime of the current generation of teenagers. Although it can be a great way of staying in touch with family and friends, it does have pitfalls. One of the problems arising from texting is something called “sexting.” Sexting is sending sexually explicit messages or photos via cell phone or instant messenger. Many teens are engaging in sexting and don’t realize the impact it can have on their lives.The problem lies with how quickly our technology can spread that material. Messages, photos or videos sent privately can easily be shared with others. Once digital images are sent, they leave a footprint and cannot be taken back.

Here are some tips on how parents can prevent sexting from happening:

Talk to Your Teen About Sexting

Surveys show that 40% of teens are engaged in some sort of sexting – whether that’s initiating it or just being the unsuspecting recipient of an explicit photo. It’s happening, and teens are keeping quiet about it. While you may think your child would never do something like that, you might be surprised what they are sending via texts. It’s important to talk about sexting as soon as you hand your teen their own cell phone.

Besides defining what sexting is, it’s important to explain the difference between flirting and sexting. People, in general, are more apt to text something inappropriate than to say it to someone’s face, so teens can quickly get on a slippery slope where flirting leads to sexting. Be sure to tell your teenager that flirting is when you pay attention to someone you like and say nice things. Any message that implies intimacy – such as referring to undergarments, sexual acts, or photos of anything you wouldn’t do in public – is inappropriate, and parents should make it clear this is unacceptable.

Parents should also reinforce the permanence of their electronic interactions and the possibility it could impact their future. Anything sent or posted in cyberspace never truly goes away, even when deleted.  A naked or suggestive picture taken and sent can never be taken back. It may seem fun and flirty at the time, but once someone else has it, it is impossible to control. The boyfriend your daughter adores may become the ex who hates her and posts the picture for all to see. Even if that doesn’t happen, any message your teen sends can be later seen by potential employers, college recruiters, teachers, coaches, family, friends, enemies, and strangers. Remind your teen not to forward any photos they receive; they should simply delete them.

Finally, be sure to warn your teen that some states have laws in place that consider any copy of a sexually explicit picture of a teen as child pornography, which means that a teen who received a photo from another teen could potentially be prosecuted and have a record as a sex offender.

Use a Cell Phone Contract With a Clause About Sexting

Although it may seem unnecessary or too formal, creating a contract with your teen about cell phone use is a great idea for two main reasons. First, when you negotiate a contract, it gives your teen some say in the limits that are imposed. That means that they are more likely to follow the rules, and it also helps them develop negotiating and communication skills that will become invaluable as they become an adult. Second, the written word eliminates ambiguity. When your teen breaks a rule, they can’t claim they didn’t understand what you meant or that they didn’t remember the limits – it’s in black and white.

Limits you should include in your contract are: not going over usage limits; the amount your teen will contribute towards the cost; when the phone must be turned off; not using the phone for sexting, bullying or malicious purposes; and not using it while driving. Your contract should also designate the consequences of not following the limits, and parents must follow through on these consequences. Parents should clearly define these rules, with input from their teen. For example, in the sexting clause, you should include a rule that they can’t take inappropriate (sexually suggestive) or naked photos of themselves. If your teen should roll their eyes at any of these limits, remind them that the phone is a privilege that must be earned by following the rules to which you both agreed.

Be Involved

Parents who randomly check their teens’ phones (and checks should be frequent and unpredictable) give their children an easy way to save face with their friends. Your teen will think twice before sexting for fear of having to pay the consequences. Additionally, many of these teens find it a relief to be able to avoid sexting by blaming you. Your child can tell their boyfriends or girlfriends, “I can’t do that. My mom will see it!”

Teen texting frequently involves code to save keystrokes, as well as to hide their content from parents. Unfortunately, teens are using code for sexting as well, so parents need to be up to speed on the latest codes when they check their teen’s phone. If you see an acronym you don’t know, don’t just ignore it or ask your teen. There are several online references that define all texting codes. In the meantime, here are a few code words you might like to know for the next time you spot check your teen’s phone:

  • “CD9” means Parents Are Around
  • “GNRN” is code for Get Naked Right Now
  • “NSAS” means No Strings Attached Sex
  • “TDTM” is Talk Dirty To Me

Final Thoughts…

Although parents generally cringe at the thought of talking to their teens about sex, it is incredibly important that they explain and set expectations about sexting as soon as their child has a cell phone. The best way to prevent your teen from using their cell phone for sexting is to check up on your teen after agreeing to the rules in a cell phone contract. If your teen is having an issue with sexting, or you are concerned they might, most cell phone carriers can block users from sending or receiving photo messages.


  • Texting has become a centerpiece in teen social life, and parents, educators and advocates have grown increasingly concerned about the role of cell phones in the sexual lives of teens and young adults. In particular, over the past year, press coverage and policy discussions have focused on how teens are using or misusing cell phones as part of their sexual interactions and explorations. The greatest amount of concern has focused on “sexting” or the creating, sharing and forwarding of sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images by minor teens.

  • It goes without saying that the chain of events that unfolds in our juvenile justice court rooms across the nation involving “sexting” are as different as the people entangled in them. The legal ramifications and outcomes vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction; however, if they are mostly due to an adolescents poor judgment, lack of knowledge, or general misuse of a cell phone, then it stands to reason many of these situations are completely avoidable. We all know teens don’t necessarily follow all the rules, but at a minimum, they should be educated on the possible consiquence and the laws they may be violating.

  • We also need to talk openly and ask our kids questions when it comes to sexual abuse. Too often, parents let panic and fear shut down communication. I have a post about it here:

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