How to Respond to Sexting - A Guide for Parents

Parents have the power to educate their kids about responsible wireless use and the consequences of inappropriate or nonconsensual sexting. To help parents with this conversation, CTIA has developed some tips and educational materials.

Set the Family Rules about Sexting Early to Establish Expectations for Consequences

  • BEFORE kids have cellphones or smartphones, parents and kids should agree to family rules to spell out what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior, and what happens if the rules are broken.
  • By considering and agreeing on an appropriate response to sexting, parents and kids will have a better understanding of how to address inappropriate situations and the consequences for such behavior.

Use the Tools That Can Help Limit Sexting

  • Keep a close eye on how kids are using their wireless devices, especially for younger teens.
  • Wireless service providers also offer many tools to help empower parents to prevent sexting including:
    • Limiting who, when and how kids can use their phone to contact others using voice and text services offered by wireless service providers;
    • Password protecting camera, Internet or download functions on the device.
  • Contact your wireless service provider for more information about parental empowerment tools. Remember that wireless service providers offer tools that manage the services and applications they offer to you while downloadable applications may require the use of different tools or settings.

Sexting and its Consequences

  • Sexting has real consequences. In some cases, sexting may cause emotional distress if the sender’s images or messages are forwarded on to unintentional audiences.
  • Sexting between a minor (someone under 18) and an adult violates child pornography laws in most states, regardless of whether the images sent or received were consensual. In addition, some state and local governments are considering both law enforcement and counseling as ways to address sexting between minors. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) is tracking the states that are considering or have passed sexting laws. The consequences of this behavior, whether sending or receiving, are real and could be long-term.
  • Talk to your kids about the serious consequences of sexting, create family rules and use parental monitoring/management tools. By proactively addressing inappropriate sexting before it becomes an issue, parents and kids can help prevent it from happening.

Additional Resources

  • A Thin Line is MTV’s campaign against digital abuse. The website offers information on how to get help, support, spreading the word and facts about digital use and abuse.
  • Connect Safely is for parents, kids, educators and advocates and is user-driven.  
  • Family Online Safety Institute works to make the online world a safer place for kids and families. The website offers best practices, tools and methods to remain safe online.
  • FCC’s Parent’s Place offers information about how to improve your children's safety in today's complex media landscape, and what the FCC is doing to help.
  • OnGuard Online is a coalition of federal government agencies and the technology industry that created Net Cetera to offer an online safety guidebook for parents to help them communicate with their children about using mobile phones safely and responsibly.
  • That’s Not Cool is a national public education campaign that uses digital examples of controlling, pressuring, and threatening behavior to raise awareness about and prevent teen dating abuse. That's Not Cool is sponsored and co-created by Futures Without Violence (formerly Family Violence Prevention Fund), the Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women, and the Advertising Council.
  • SafetyWeb.com gives parents an insight into sexting and how to prevent it or help their child if they are involved with a sexting problem.