Sexting: The Who, What, Where, Why, and How

March 12, 2012

What is Sexting?

Sexting is the act of sending sexually explicit text messages, images, or videos of yourself, usually from one cell phone or computer, to another person’s cell phone or computer. According to a survey conducted by Wired Magazine and MTV, 1/3 of youth interviewed stated that they had engaged in some form of sexting. In a survey conducted by AK Tweens, 30% of girls between the ages of 9-15 years reported having sent sexually explicit messages or photos via a text, and 44% of teens interviewed stated that it is common for sexts to be shared with someone other than the intended recipient.

Although it may be seem to be fun and risky for our youth to send sexy pictures to a boyfriend or girlfriend in a new relationship, what about when that relationship ends? Can that same person be trusted not to send those images to others?

What many youth do not understand is that even if these sexts are deleted, the sexually explicit messages, images, or videos becomes permanent in the cyberspace world, which can come back to haunt them emotionally, psychologically, and even physically later on in life.

The messaging to our youth we try to teach is before you press the send button, ask yourself this question:

“Would you flash the same sexually explicit message, image, or video in the hallway of your school for all to see? If the answer is NO, don’t hit the send button.”

Many parents ask us why sexting has become so prevalent with our youth, some answers from sexting expert Rosalind Wiseman include:

  • At these young ages our youth have an inability to foresee consequences to actions specific to sexting. They are more focused on the here and now rather than the future
  • Immaturity
  • Craving for attention, which is fed by our celebrity-based culture that our youth are immersed in with the help of social media.
  • Peer pressure via dares/challenges made by a boyfriend/girlfriend.
  • To play what they perceive to be a prank joke. A picture is taken in a change room or bathroom, which is then sent to others.
  • The prevalence of the technology itself. Most cells phones have the ability to capture pictures and or video.
  • Teens caught up in sexting are focusing on what other people want and think, instead of what they authentically feel.

Another reason why primarily young girls become involved in sexting is explained by Dr. Sameer Hinduja and Dr Justin W. Patchin, who run the web site

Sexting is largely an adolescent development issue. Youth seek to figure out who they are and what they stand for during this tenuous period of life, and the process by which this occurs is greatly dependent upon cues from their social environment. That is, peer perceptions and cultural norms are a large determinant in their own self-worth. As such, adolescents often seek to present themselves to their peers in a way that attracts positive attention and increases social status. This then serves to meet their inherent needs for affection, affirmation, and validation.

A teenage girl might hesitate for a moment when asked to send a semi-nude or nude picture of herself to a boyfriend or boy she’s interested in, but if it may improve that boy’s perception of her and consequently her perception of herself – and if it is deemed socially acceptable – she may do it. This problem is exacerbated by the incessant cultural messages that describe and promote teen sexuality in arguably unhealthy ways – where “hooking up” may be preferred over “dating,” and where having personal privacy boundaries is viewed as “old-school” and “lame.”

The Law and Sexting:

Here in Canada, section 163.1 of the Criminal Code states:

“Child Pornography” refers to any written or visual representation, whether photographic, film, or video made by any mechanical or electronic means that:

  • Shows or depicts a person who is, or appears to be, under the age of 18yrs, engaging in (or depicted as engaging in) explicit sexual activity.
  • Has as its dominate characteristic the depiction of a sexual organ or the anal area of a person under the age of 18 years old
  • Advocates or counsels sexual activity with a person under the age of 18yrs

If you possess a picture on your cell phone that has the above noted essential elements, you could be charged with possessing child pornography. If you are sexting to others, or forwarding sexts you have received to others, you could also be charged with distribution of child pornography – yes, EVEN if you’re a minor.

Sexting Damage Control:

Rosalind Wiseman, a United States based expert on the topic of sexting has recommended the following steps to manage the damage caused by sexting, something we endorse as well:

The Target:

  • Periodically, both you and your child should check their phone to see what they are receiving and sending. This is especially important and you should make this a part of a “responsibility contract”.
  • If your child does become the target of sexting don’t blame them, BUT rather say, “ I’m really sorry that this has happened to you, the first thing that we are going to do is to contact all the people who might have the picture and tell them that your parents know and ask them to delete it”.
  • Next step, take the phone away and restrict computer privileges for a month for breaking the Responsibility Contract (which you will find in the next chapter) because they sexted to another person.

The Offender:

  • If your son or daughter manipulated someone to sext, state to them clearly that, “we’ve got a big problem, it seems you think that you can exploit someone’s need for attention”.
  • Have them write a letter of apology to the person targeted, and a second letter of apology to the parent of the targeted youth.
  • Advise them that they will lose all phone and computer privileges for at least one month given that they broke the Responsibility Contract, and depending how maturely they take responsibility you will re-evaluate their privileges in a month.

The “party to the offence” Offender:

  • If your child received a text from the offender, and then passed it onto others then they too participated as a “party to the offence” in someone else’s embarrassment.
  • State to your child directly, “ I know you didn’t originally send the picture, but I am holding you responsible because by sending it to others, your actions contributed to someone’s humiliation.”
  • Advise your child to delete the pictures and to let everyone who they sent the picture know that your parents know who they are.
  • Take your child’s phone away and prohibit computer privileges for two weeks because they broke the Responsibility Contract.

As new technology becomes available to our youth, they almost always jump in with both feet, full speed ahead, often not considering any potential negative outcomes to their actions. As time progresses, this type of behavior is reeled in because of real-world experience and knowledge. The good news is that once our youth and young adults learn more about the negative consequences of sexting, they will probably be less likely to participate in this type of behavior. We have mentioned this before, but we will mention it again: knowledge and the understanding and application of that knowledge is power. We NEED to talk to our kids about this sexting issue.

What Can Principals and Teachers Do About Sexting?

Much like cyberbullying, when a student brings to the attention of a teacher that a sext picture of themselves is being sent to other students, there is a legal obligation for a school to take action. One organization that has created a road map for teachers, The Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use (CSRIU), has created a “Sexting Investigation and Intervention Protocol” that schools can use as a blueprint, to assist in these types of incidents that can be located at CSRIU utilizes a multi-disciplinary investigative team approach, which involves the principal, school counselor, a police school resource officer, and, if needed, school district legal and risk prevention services. Of interest, the CSRIU separates sexting incidents into four specific categories, which we agree with:

1. Developmentally Normative Sexting Activities:

This is where pictures are exchanges in a romantic partnership where neither partner is pressured for the image or distributed the image beyond each other.

2. Malicious Sexting Activities:

These are pictures that are passed on to cause harm to person depicted. This would include peer pressure or peer trickery with malicious intent to distribute. Also includes an image that is taken under circumstances where privacy is expected like in a school locker room or bathroom.

3. At-Risk Sexting Behavior:

Here, the teen is engaging in at risk behavior where they intentionally disseminate an image of themselves in order to advertise sexual availability with peers, or for the purpose of teen prostitution.

4. Significantly Harmful Sexting Behavior:

These are pictures that are designed to harm the depicted person that is egregious in nature. Here the abusive or controlling peer aggressor will demand an image. Here because of revenge will distribute the picture after a breakup. The peer aggressor may also blackmail the victim with threats of distribution if their intended victim does not do something for them. This also includes sexual solicitation of a younger teen by an older teen.

Depending upon the type of sexting disclosed, the CSRIU provides teachers, principals, counselors, school police resource officers, and parents with a recommend course of action, specific to investigational techniques and possible outcomes/consequences. We highly suggest that schools have a look at the above noted CSRIU link, as it will provide a good starting point on how to deal with this very challenging issue.


  • Deleting a picture or video from the internet does not delete it forever
  • Deleting a picture or video from your digital camera or phone does not delete it forever
  • Simply deleting a picture or video from your computer does not delete it forever
  • Webcasting sexual behavior via a webcam is not private or secure and can be recorded

Talk with your kids and discuss all the issues and challenges with sexting.

Digital Food For Thought

Darren Laur

AKA #thewhitehatter

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