Is Your Child “Sexting” Nude Photos? (Surprise! 1 in 5 Have Tried It)

Posted February 13, 2009 by

Photo of elisabeth

In Cape Cod this week, another group of middle schoolers was found “sexting” photos of a 13 year old female classmate to each other. If you haven’t heard, “sexting” is the act of sending nude photos of yourself or others via your cell phone. A recent study conducted in December suggested that I out of every 5 teens in America has tried sexting, either via cell phone or while online.

Said Gerry Leone, the Middlesex, Mass. DA, “The fact of the matter is, you have no control over the image once you send it, and no control what someone else will do with it once you send it.” He said the focus in this case will not be on prosecuting these kids on child pornography charges, rather, it will be on educating and training students to “prevent these kinds of things from happening in the first place.”

Another recent case in San Diego details how teens have been sending naked self-portraits to each other via cell phone. (A warning letter about this was sent home recently to parents of kids who attend the Diegueno and Oak Crest Middle Schools there, since several cases have occurred in the past 2 years. The kids involved ranged in age from 13 to 17.)  School resources officer Anthony O’Boyle was quoted as saying that the problem is two-fold: “Possession and distribution of such pictures, which are by definition child pornography, is against the law.” And again, once the photos are sent, you have absolutely no control over what happens to them.

Call me clueless, but I don’t understand how kids would think this is OK. Are ideas about sexuality and nudity so completely different from when I was a teen-ager? (I guess the answer is obviously yes!) I know that kids do not have the ability to understand the consequences of their actions, but this one seems pretty cut and dried to me — you send out a nude photo, and pretty soon everyone in the school, town, state and country can see it. And somewhere down the line, you know that predators are viewing these photos, too.

I think the answer is that we have to aggressively educate our kids at home and at school. I’m not naive enough to think that will stop all sexting, but at least it’s a start. In some states, kids are being prosecuted on child porn charges. Do you think they should be? And how do you talk to your child about sexting and their online activities? Finally, what would you do if you caught your son or daughter doing this? (The first thing I’d do — throw their cell phone in the lake!)


Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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  1. preteenintrouble2 (Edit) Report

    Preteenintrouble Hi, I am just seeing your post because my daughter that is 12 and sounds very much like your daughter was just caught sending a topless pic to a boy via snap-chat. We are not sure yet who all has seen the pic that he screen shot. And in this case he pressured her over and over to send him the pic. But she is also an A student, in church, most of the time in dance after school and I monitor text messages, etc. Snap-Chat is one that is hard to monitor but like you, Cell phone, iPad, everything is gone. I wanted to know what came of this for your family? I’m so worried about others finding out and her getting bullied. Thankfully it’s summer and hopefully it will blow aver before school starts back up. Your response is greatly appreciated.

  2. Daniel (Edit) Report

    I am not a parent, and I am not a north american. I am 15 years old and I knows it cant end well. A friend of mine has sent some photos to his boyfriend because he told her if she dont send the photos, he would break up with her. After a wweek, everyone had the photos in the cell phone. After this, she said to her arents she wanted to move to another state, because it qas a big shame. Her parents dont moved to give her a lesson, her boyfiend end the relation in about 5 days, and now she is looked by the other students as a person who wants only sex in life. It can detroy the life of the poor child. Their parents is thinking about moving in a month.

  3. CathyC (Edit) Report

    momof3: you are so right. My hubby just found pics on our daughters phone. She is 16. What to do? A host of questions run thru our mind….did she send them, who did she send them to, and WHY would she pose provocatively in the first place? It’s opposite to how she acts around us. Hormones are normal this age, I remember being a 16 yr old girl. How to handle this? That’s why I am here, to get help and ideas. I will tell her what the potential consequences are, legally and morally. She could face charges! I will consider having texting blocked on her phone. Her phone is far more advanced than mine, texting is king with teens, they text during class if they can. They get tweet feeds from celebrities and friends alike. Time to clamp down, and we will have a fight on our hands.

  4. concerned mother (Edit) Report

    I am totally baffled by this one. My 13 year old has a great father and me who love and care for her. Last year we caught her sexting, took away all her technology, and we all went to counseling. I thought we had this one covered, but I just read her ipod and she is sexting again. I’m considering going to the police and asking them for assistance. I don’t want my daughter to get in legal trouble but I’m concerned for the people she doesn’t know she is sexting in Australia. If I went to the police it might help her realize the danger of this plus scare her enough to stop falling to the temptations. We just want the best for our daughter.

  5. TripTrep (Edit) Report

    Everyone on here is super strict when it comes to cellphone useage. By putting ridiculous rules on simple things it just makes kids want to do it more. I would much rather expose my kids to it so that they can see what happens and then put my faith in my kid that I raised them right. If my kid goes out and decides to make adult choices then he will suffer those adult consequences end of story. Teens are more grown up then I think you give them credit for. They count on their parents to bail them out becasue their parents always do. Stop being their safety net and they will see how hard the ral world is themselvces.

  6. destiny4knt (Edit) Report

    I all too much understand the misuse of cell phones. I gave into my 14 year old and got her a cell phone with unlimited texting. She is now going on 17 and after years of discipline and often removing the cell phone from her for upto six weeks at a time, I believe she is finally maturing. She has never sexted a photo of herself as far as I know but has had what I call inappropriate conversations. I will tell you though that most of those conversations were not on her cell they were on the computer. So for those of you who keep saying to not give your child a cell phone then you better also be prepared to remove the internet, msn, facebook, myspace and if thats not enough how about internet capable ipods, and even the now internet capable handheld ds device that comes equipped with a camera. If your child is going to do this they will find a way. I found the best way to deal with these problems is continual loving, disciplined parenting. My child didnt always like me, actually hated me at one point but now we have a very good relationship because I stuck to our familys value and belief system and continued to be a consistent parent, Everytime I think that I have all the communication devices covered I discover the market has come up with a new device that is internet capable and of course has a webcam or camera on it. Lets not forget gaming systems now have chat rooms and live play around the world. Unless we choose to live in a complete no electronics world then we will have to continue to educate our children and guide them down the proper paths in life. They will make mistakes, unfortunately this generations mistakes can be recorded and sent to 50 people in about 20 seconds. My generation had the luxury of a few weeks reprieve before we were ratted out by a weaker friend or sibling. Nowadays everything and anything has a recording device of some kind and it is really hard to keep up.
    I am a Mother that is still learning and willing to learn how to love my child even through their mistakes.

  7. Rachelle (Edit) Report

    What are the best ways to respond once you have discovered photos were being sent by your child? A. I have taken phone. B. I called both known children who recieved the photos. I ask them to delete them. Explained that the authorities maybe called and the chances of charges for having or sending child pornography. C. Explained to my child what I believe led up to her actions and what may come from sending such pictures.
    I still do not feel this is enough. I am so upset about this and ashamed for my child. The response I got from the children who got the pictures was as if it was not a big deal. What else am I able to do to protect my daughter without exposing what she has done?

  8. annoyed (Edit) Report

    I think the way to prevent this is by not allowing your child to have a cell phone if they are under the age of 16 – let alone one that takes pictures! Although there are many advancements in Phone technology these days, I’m sure there are plenty of cell phones still out there that are unable to take pictures. If you are unable to find a phone that doesn’t have a camera – then take away the texting service! I think there is a lot that can be done but many parents are still blind to what is going on. Unfortunately you may be able to stop your child from taking the photos or sending the photos… but you obviously can’t stop a boyfriend/girlfriend from taking or sending the photos if they have a cell phone that can take pictures and pass them along. It’s unfortunate that these days so many parents allow their tweens and young teens to even have cell phones at all. These young kids should only be allowed to have one of those emergency cell phones where all it does is let you call a few numbers and 911.

  9. heart broken parent (Edit) Report

    All of this is great advise, but what it all comes down to. It doesn’t matter what you do THIS CAN STILL HAPPEN TO YOU.

    We have cell phone rules, our duagther is invovled in a girl empowerment program, we have a great relationship with her, she is an A student, She is a wonderful athlete, and all that other stuff. She is a responsiable kid.


    I found the photos on her old phone memory card. She though she had deleted them, but we had her phone set up on auto back for monitoring purposes, well luckly the really bad ones she took of herself, she did not send, but she did send some very soft ones, thankful her face isnt in the pictures either so know one would know who it was of, but thats all besides the point, This was done in OCT and we just found it, actually by accident, I dont know how i missed it when i checked her card before. Anyhow KID DO STUFF YOU CAN’T CONTROL. With cell phones without cell phones etc.

    I work for a program that mentors boys, i volunteer for a program that mentors girl, we are so involved with this stuff, and it happened to us right at home, from the one kid we never thought would do it, she knows what can happen, she seen what can happen, to other girls in her group, why she did it? simply because she was asked. Nothing else more special then that.

    So how to prevent this? Heck if I know

  10. just my opinion (Edit) Report

    I agree with people that girls might do it to feel glamorous. But i think the bigger picture is, today with our technology, everything is spread around so fast, we don’t even know till it comes back to us. These days kids are a lot more used to sex than decades ago. You see sex scenes on TV today. Let’s stop judging these kids, and punishing them so harshly. They’ve made mistakes, we all do, and i’m sure we don’t know enough. We haven’t lived in these times as kids, we can only imagine what its like to be a teen nowadays.

  11. Robert Galarga (Edit) Report

    just don’t give a phone to your son, a phone that it’s able to do that, and that way you will keep him away of those things, if he isn’t enough mature to use a phone in the right way, just don’t give him one.

    Take the phone out of your kid/son!

  12. CowboysFan24 (Edit) Report

    Has anyone heard of the teens who were “sexting” and were charge for soliciting pornography. After being charged the girls parents are prosecuting the DA for violation of their 5th amendment. What are these parents teaching their children? How do you as parents feel about it?

  13. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor (Edit) Report

    Mark: I personally think that’s the way to go, as well — especially if your child is prone to engage in risk-taking behavior. There’s nothing wrong with letting them know that you’ll be checking in from time-to-time. When I talked with Anastasia Goodstein (the author of Totally Wired) for an article in EP, she also recommended that we stay ahead of the curve and learn how to use all the technology our kids use — i.e., try to be as tech-savvy as they are so you don’t get left wondering what they’re up to. This is the main reason I joined Facebook, and I have to admist, I’ve ended up really enjoying it myself. It’s also taken the mystery out of Social Networking Sites for me…now that I know how they work, I’m better able to understand what teens are doing — and how they get into trouble!

    Here’s the article with Anastasia:

  14. Mark Hansen (Edit) Report

    I agree with Dave. Too often I hear of parents that, in the name of “respecting their children’s privacy” don’t check up on their kids.

    I say, be up front with them, but check up on them. Tell them that you’ll check up, and that their continued access to the tech depends on what you find when you do.


  15. dlmiller1054 (Edit) Report

    Good article, good comments. I an amazed by the technology of cell phones. They can be used for good or evil. We must make the right choices. I get upset when it seems every where I go someone is talking in a rather loud voice on the phone. I think it is rude. I think that people should respect others right to “not have to listen to their conversations”. Now this sexting thing is becoming an issue. I guess that it just makes parenting a much more harder job. It seems that parents are always in the cross hairs. The best thing we can do is to instill good values in our children and keep reinforcing those values. Then we have to monitor what they are doing. We want to trust our children, but we must check up on them to see they deserve our trust.

  16. momof3 (Edit) Report

    One other thing on phone rules in our home—it isn’t a free for all in our house. When the kids are home the phones sit on the counter. They aren’t allowed to take them to their bedrooms. There are no calls allowed after 9:00pm at our house. They didn’t like the rules at first–but that is how it was going to be. Either like it or don’t it is your choice—but the rule is staying as it is. We just remind them that they have those phones for contact between us—it wasn’t purchased as a social tool for them. We don’t get the phones with all the bells and whistles on them either—I have to say that can get a little tough these days to find just a basic phone that pulls in good reception! 🙂 So just wanted to share that extra bit of info that parents CAN set boundaries and enforce them and the kids WILL come around—yes it might take a while–but if you are consistent? It will happen. Go ahead–give it a try!! 🙂

  17. momof3 (Edit) Report

    I SO agree with RWB and Booshlar—-WHY buy your kids the latest and greatest that cell phones have to offer? My gosh do people even sit down and add up what is spent on the phone and the monthly charges for them? A few years ago we bought 1 phone for our kids to share when they were in sports and had to go out of town. Well that flourished into something we didn’t expect. It has ended up that our 16 year old has a phone and our 15 year old has a phone. The 15 year old uses it mostly as he should–to contact us his parents. Our 16 year old wants to use it for WAY more than that. Well we have decided that the phones were purchased for us to be able to reach them and vice versa—so there is no texting enabled on their phones—we did try that I will say and although one handled it beautifully and followed our rules we had set up? The other went over the edge and decided our rules meant nothing. So to this day there is no texting—incoming or outgoing. I just couldn’t take the constant checking the phone to see who has texted and texting back and forth instead of picking up the phone and talking with the mouths they were born with!! The 16 year old hates our phone rules—the 15 year old could care less about his phone. Kids—go figure 🙂 I admire people who haven’t given in and gotten cell phones for their kids. If anything maybe a track phone might be the best way to go if any phone at all. Honestly—us over 40 grew up just fine without being in constant contact with the world. No one really needs to know who is where and what they are all doing at all minutes of the day AND night. I wish parents would wake up and put their foot down—then if we were all on the same page? We wouldn’t be having all the cell phone problems in the world. But alot of parents don’t want to upset little Johnny or Susie so they keep the peace and give them what they want. Well my feelings on that is that the child will get straightened out by someone in this world—why not have it be your own parents teaching you the hard lessons of life—-You can’t always have everything you want!! Less is MORE!! Teach your children to work for things—-and then show them how to decide wether they really need that item or just WANT it. We have had our trials and tribulations with our oldest—as she was our first to go through things with–we didn’t really know what we were doing until one day we woke up and realized this little girl at 14 was lying to us and basically running things in our home. We put our foot down and set some rules and she BUCKED. But she is a very stubborn child—but she has softened over the past 2 years of learning how to either follow the rules? Or suffer your consequence. It is hard to stick with it—but you MUST or you will lose all you have gained.

  18. Ashley (Edit) Report

    I agree that teens often act before actually processing what their about to do and what could possibly come from it, but I do not think that is a good enough reason to not punish them legally. If anyone thinks that sitting a child down and educating them @ home/in school on why “sexting” is wrong is going to stop them from continuing this act, your wrong. I think that with every case, these kids should be prosecuted accordingly – that will teach them a lesson and help them to understand real quick that its not ok to disobey the law.

    I feel that educating them on this issue should not have to be taken care of publicly but rather at home! These teens should be made aware that sending out nude pics shows a lack of self respect and if you dont respect yourself others are not going to.

  19. Booshlar (Edit) Report

    I have spent the better part of my parenting life trying to get my children to “think through” their behavioral choices,all the way to end. It didn’t prevent them from doing stupid things, but it did shorten up their excuses. After which I would ask them, “Did you learn anything?”
    Parents need to be involved with every aspect of their child’s life. It has to start young. When I was a kid it was television and the three channels that my parents had to keep an eye on. Now, the entire planet can be piped into something as small as a cell phone, the internet has opened up a sewage pipe of human waste that can be accessed by anyone. Your child needs to know that you can and will check their usage and what they are viewing, as well as sending on their computers and cell phones. Not because you are nosy, but because you love them enough to put up with their discontent with you. I have told my children dozens of times over the years, God didn’t give you to me because I needed another friend, he gave you to me to watch over you and protect you from yourself, which you are incapable of right now.
    I don’t care what the ACLU says, I have every right to know what my children are putting into their young minds, because what they pour into their skulls will eventually work it’s way out of their hearts, and that is something that all of society should be concerned about.

  20. Sherry 09 (Edit) Report

    I agree that parents should keep an eye on their teen’s cell phones, texting, and their usage of the internet. We as parents have to become more technically aware and not let our children become more advanced than we are. By doing so, we may be able to keep some control over them. Peer pressure is very powerful so we need to teach our children about making their own choices. They need to know that true friends would not ask them to do something that would cause them to degrade themselves or misrepresent their parents. I hope that other teens will adhere to the seriousness of sexting and not be a part of the problem. However, peculiar teens should view the teens that have been convicted as a prime example. Therefore, they will not have to endure consequences that come with wrong choices. Our youth need us as parents and guardians to ask questions and pay attention to what they are involved in. In the event of not paying attention to them could lead to corruption of their future.

  21. Elisabeth, EP Editor (Edit) Report

    RWB: You can call your cell phone provider and have them send you a monthly list of all phone calls and texts sent to and from your child’s phone. Also, you can buy software that enables you to actually monitor/read your child’s text messages. (A quick search on the net gives you the names of quite a few companies who sell this service.)

    I’ve also heard you can have your child’s phone “unlocked” by the cell company, which will give you access to all their texts and voicemails. I’ve never done this personally, though, and wonder if there are any parents out there who have…

  22. tania (Edit) Report


    I hope you are getting your daughter councelling. If your daughter felt that much pressure and felt the need to send nude pictures of herself whether soft or not, tells me there is an underlying of lack of self confidence. Your daughters pictures could have ended up everywhere on the net printed up and posted all over town (which I have seen happen)Please look into this more deeply and see if your town offers empowering classes that your daughter can attend. RWB I am with you why do all the young kids today need cell phones in school or home in my day it was alot cheaper to put 25 cents in the public phone than to pay a cell phone bill for a child.

  23. rwb (Edit) Report

    Its interesting that most parents are becoming aware of the dangers and problems related to teenage use of phones, texting and emailing. Yet we continue to purchase phones in particular with texting for even elementary age kids. Why do you think that we do this?

    Question: Is there any way to look at texting history similar to what can be done to monitor Internet use? How do you monitor your child’s texting/phone activities?

  24. chicagolynn (Edit) Report

    It is a little over a year now that our son was involved in a sexting incident. In his case there was a girl whom he believed was interested in him. She begged him to send a picture of himself for numerous days-promising him hugs and kisses. After a number of days he succumbed and sent one. Needless to say she was setting him up and told her parents. He was prosecuted for lewd behavor and a host of other things. Fortunately he has a nosy mom who had confiscated his cell phone when I thought he was using profanity. (I actually never saw the photo…) With this evidence his charges were lessened but are still quite severe. The girl involved received no reprimands. It was probably our mistake by not pushing her intial involvement but we wanted it to go away. My advice is to keep an eye on your teen’s cell phone and computer activities. We are a fairly strict family- our children are not allowed to see R rated movies, have an early curfew, and attend Mass every week. We never thought this would happen to us so please don’t say never.

  25. Colleen (Edit) Report

    Solomom, you’re right, it is hard enough for adults in our world, let alone kids. Kids make mistakes and aren’t always able to see very far down the road. And nowadays, it seems like the stakes are so much higher! It sounds like your daughter is learning an important lesson about how to respect herself. Hang in there!

  26. solomom (Edit) Report

    My daughter(who is a straight A student) 15 years old has been charged with distribution of child pornography. She sent a nude photo(soft) but nude the police officer said, to her boyfriend back in NOvember. The boy was her boyfriend at the time and was pressuring her for sex. She sent him the photos to keep him at bay until she had the nerve to finally breakup with him.
    She will have to do community service and diversion classes.
    I never thought she would feel it nessessary to do such a thing but it is a hard enough decision for an adult today, let alone a child who is struggling with who they are in life.

  27. Megan (Edit) Report

    Sadly, I think sometimes this is the point – many young women post photos because they think people will see them as glamorous, sexy, powerful – basically, this is a way to feel wanted and admired. They idolize and emulate the power they think supermodels and actresses have, they learn that they are powerful when they are defined by their bodies, etc. So instead of seeing “nude photos spread all over town” as a bad thing, it’s a powerful thing. If the pictures spread all over, then obviously, people enjoy what they see, those people want other people to see this sexy photograph, and that obviously means “I’m attractive and therefore powerful.”

  28. Dale Sadler (Edit) Report

    Late last year a boy was prosecuted for possession of child pornography and I don’t think anything happened to the girl (his girlfriend) who sent it to him. Teens have little capacity to think ahead. So, you’re right. They’re not going to think about who’s seeing these pictures. This is a basic characteristic of teens. However, it seems obvious to me that they are missing lessons on modesty and the sanctity of sex. It’s just another way to have fun. The commitment required between a man and a woman to be exclusive to one another is a joke to them. Also, the sexual messages they receive on a regular basis teaches them, “if you’ve got it, flaunt it.” Well, they’re doing just that.

    Maybe more deeply rooted in this on the girls’ side is the desire for a relationship with a male. Many do not have a concrete father figure in their lives so they do what it takes to get other males to notice them. The sad part is that what they will receive is often short-lived, and they move on to the next pubescent boy who will show them some attention even if only for a little while.



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