I have been speaking to parents about Internet Safety for over 10 years. When I started, the word “Sexting” didn’t exist. Now it is a topic I bring up at every talk. And according to the FBI it’s frequency is on the rise. 20% of teenagers (22% of girls and 18% of boys) have sent naked or seminude images of themselves. So 1 in 5 teens have taken a nude or seminude picture of them selves and sent it to someone else.

So parents if you know 5 teens you probably know a sexter. Shocking? I think so. I have 3 teens in my house so if two of their friends come over that makes 5. Which one is the sexter? It can start to freak you out when you look at it that way.

If 20% of teens are sexting what percentage of teens have a sexting picture on their phone? Not of themselves, but of someone who has either sexted them or a friend got a sext and sent it to them. When a girl sexts her boyfriend does she really think he’s the only one that see’s it?

There are so many stories of sexting pictures that spread like wildfire through a school. So if 20% of teens create sexts how many teens have sexting pictures on their phones that they’ve received? I don’t have a percentage for you on that, but we can probably safely assume it’s way more than 20%. So chances are probably better than 3 to 1 a teen has or has had a sexting picture on their cell phone.

So that begs the question: What do you do if you find a sexting picture on your child’s cell phone? Well let’s back up a step.

Have you ever checked your child’s cell phone for this kind of impropriate content? You should. I had a dad call me who knew I had spoken to the parents at his son’s school on Internet Safety, but he missed it. He wanted to get the highlights. I gave him some pointers, and then asked if his son had a cell phone and if he’d ever looked at what pictures he had stored on it. He was adamant that his son didn’t have any bad pictures on his cell phone because his phone didn’t have Internet access. I asked if his son had texting on his phone. The answer was yes. I told the dad just to look at the pictures on his sons phone. If there is nothing there, then great, but it can’t hurt to look. He told me again how he was sure there was nothing on his son’s phone to worry about and thanked me for my time.  Then, 10 minutes later, my phone rings. It’s the dad again. He found some inappropriate pictures on his son’s cell phone that really concerned him. He could hardly believe what he found. Now what should he do? 

If you find nude or seminude pictures on your child’s phone, you need to sit them down and have a serious talk. Find out where they got the pictures? Who sent them? If you don’t recognize the person in the picture(s) (and I really hope you don’t) you need to find out if this is a person they know or that their friend knows. If so you need to get in touch with the parents of the child who sent them the picture and the parents of the child who is in the picture. This may get awkward and you may have to get your school involved. And if the person in the picture(s) is under 18, child pornography enters the situation and this sexting incident could now turn into a serious offense. For the sake of all involved you want to nip this whole situation in the bud. The less the picture(s) spreads the better. Make sure your child knows not only the moral reasons why having inappropriate pictures on their cell phone is wrong but the legal ramifications (in the case of underage sexting) as well. That just may scare them straight!