You Received a “Sext,” Now What? Advice for Teens

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on February 22, 2011

If you are a teen and receive a sexually-explicit image of a classmate via your cell phone (or email, or instant message, or via a Nintendo Dsi, or any other type of electronic communication), what should you do? This can be a challenging situation, to say the least. We know that anywhere from 10-30% (or more) of teens have received such images, and many probably don’t know what to do. You have no doubt seen the examples in the media of teens being cyberbullied, arrested, or even committing suicide as a result of bad decisions involving the circulation of nude personal pictures. My thoughts here are intended to provide you (youth) with a specific and simple strategy to help avoid any of these consequences.

If you do receive such an image, odds are that it was sent by a good friend (or a boyfriend or girlfriend). As a result, you probably don’t want to get this person into too much trouble, but you also know that peddling in these kinds of pictures is probably not going to lead to great things in life (because if you think about it, it is highly inappropriate, morally wrong, and potentially illegal). So what do you do? Well, most adults might advise you to “tell an adult you trust.” This is generally good advice for a lot of problems you run into, however in the case of a naked photo of an under-aged youth, this can be devastating for all involved. For example, if you show the image to a teacher, he or she is likely required by law to report it to the police. Teachers who don’t can lose their teaching license and/or be fired. If they don’t know what to do and seek guidance from a fellow teacher, they could get into even more trouble. For example, if you hand your cell phone with the nude image over to the teacher, and he or she shows another teacher, both teachers (and you) could be charged with “possession” of child pornography since they had possession of your phone. That’s because the police often treat these images as child pornography – irrespective of the intent of the sender or the relationship of those involved. This means that if you take the picture, you can be charged with the “creation of child pornography.” If you send or forward the pic, you can be charged with “distribution of child pornography.” If you keep it on your phone, you can be charged with “possession of child pornography.” In some cases you could even end up on state sex offender registries.

My advice to teens who receive a nude or semi-nude image of a classmate is simple: immediately delete it. Don’t tell anyone about it. If there is an investigation and someone asks if you received the image, you should tell them yes, but that you immediately deleted it. If necessary, they can get your cell phone records from your service provider, and search the contents of your phone, which will show that you deleted it within seconds of receiving it. This is the best situation for you. Of course, some adults aren’t going to like this advice because they want to be in the “know” to attempt to deal with the problem, but I think it is the only safe advice I can offer youth at this point.

The primary goal in sexting incidents is to limit the victimization of the person portrayed in the image. If the individual(s) who initially received the image immediately delete it, there would be no distribution and victimization would be minimized. Be sure to tell your friends that it is in their best interest not to hold onto or send these kinds of images. It just isn’t worth the potential long-term and irreversible consequences to your (and their) reputation.

If you find out that your friends are continuing to distribute naked pictures of themselves or others, you would be wise to let them know how such behavior can seriously mess up their future. Strongly encourage them to stop and to delete the images. If you are concerned about the well-being of the person depicted in the images, you may want to anonymously report the behavior to your school (if there is a way to do this).

We have said it many times on this blog, but it bears repeating here that neither Sameer nor I are attorneys, so you should not interpret this blog as formal legal counsel. We are simply looking out for the best interests of teens and those who interact with them. Stay tuned for a follow-up post in the near future on what teachers should do if a student tells them (or shows them) a sexting image involving a student.

Postscript: I offer additional thoughts on this topic in the next post, which you can read here.

  • Guest

    I’ve been trying to report this creepy page on Facebook but they don’t seem to have an appropriate resource with which to do so. This person is making sexual posts about a 14 year old girl. I have screen shots, but again, Facebook doesn’t seem to have a good way of reporting this. Look at these posts and tell me that’s not creepy and totally inappropriate for that group:

  • Doellstedt

    Don’t tell anyone? Really? How about the people who pass the photos on to others out of spite…and pass them on to others…and post them as fake facebook accounts. Don’t tell anyone? People’s reputations are at stake, and maybe their lives…Encouraging them not to tell a teacher or trusted adult????

  • Normaj09

    Someone is posting trashy video virus on my F/B. I have changed my password multiple times, logged out, back in, over and over. But it still pops up. Please someone help me get this mess off my page.

    • Summer Glau

      That is more likely a computer problem, not a Facebook problem. Run a virus scan with your antivirus to try and remove it.

  • Mary Jo Vasquez

    I am a parent of a 16 year old. he cotinues to recieve pop up requests fro datign sites. The adults offering these services are hardly dressed. What can I do to stop these pop ups from coming on his page.

    • Rei016

      Delete them ASAP, and end the problem with a period not a question mark. This is why them make if possible to delete unwanted actions via the internet.

  • Cyrsu

    I shared one picture clicking her share on post and she wrote this;”

    May 18 Serah Dumas WTF, you fucking bitch. You stole my pictures. You are being reported. You are a crazy mother fucking bitch. Forget my name ever existed. You need serious mental help you crazy ass bitch. Go jump off the jetti! You can no longer message Serah Dumas. Learn more.

  • Info

    You should be able to go through the official Facebook abuse channels to get the problematic profiles shut down. You can also email us directly with your daughter’s profile web address and we will personally contact Facebook to get it down if the content violates their Terms of Service (e.g., has sexual pictures, etc.). Let us know!

  • Sameer

    You should be able to go through the official Facebook abuse channels to get the problematic profiles shut down. You can also email us directly ( with your daughter’s profile web address and we will personally contact Facebook to get it down if the content violates their Terms of Service (e.g., has sexual pictures, etc.). Let us know!

  • Cindy


    Donna Flowers
    This is a lot to ask of you girls but I really need your help now. Cindy is still not stopping and is still sending the police around here to me and Otto. Can anyone that has received ANYTHING from Cindy please forward it all to me for more proof of how much she is harassing all of us and no one is harassing her at all. I know we can prove it by text’s and e-mails and even on FB here, but I just r…See More
    Share · 9 hours ago ·

    Nancy Aleksey I don’t know what is going on here so all I can say is that if you give people enough rope they will hang themselves. It almost sounds like you are trying to protect her and I don’t think you can.
    5 hours ago · 1
    Donna Flowers Hi Nancy. This person needs mental help and not to be arrested, but if that is what I need to happen to her, I most certainly will. My friends and I have been being harassed by her for nearly 6 weeks now and it seems the more we ignore her, the worse she gets. It’s reminding me of the movie with Glen Close and Michael Douglas when she says “I will not be ignored”. It’s getting very scary.
    3 hours ago
    Khloe Aleksey-White totally the wrong thing to say Aunt Nancy. Choose a different metaphor
    3 hours ago
    Dianne D’Amore I am sorry Donna. This situation is beyond crazy.
    2 hours ago · 1
    Donna Flowers I really believe she has gone mad now Dianne. It’s just non stop with her. She’s actually the talk of the town here now. The police station is getting a kick out of this. It’s such a small town everyone knows everyone’s business. First she sends the police to Otto’s to give him her number so he can call her and then sends them there to tell him to stop harassing her, That’s what they mentioned today. They know it’s all her doing this and is really having a good time with it. I just told them to stop her completely. UGH !!! Hope this is the end of it although I’ve been hoping that for so long now.
    about an hour ago
    Dianne D’Amore Can you put a restraining order on her or does that only work with keeping a distance away from someone?
    about an hour ago · 1
    Donna Flowers Living so far (thankfully) away from each other. I don’t think that would work. All they can do is tell her to stop what she is doing. If she continues, then it would be a next step of suing her for harassment. The police aren’t really doing anything yet, but they are getting a kick out of it. I think they have bets of how long she’ll call them again and what she’ll say next.
    about an hour ago
    Dianne D’Amore Good thing the cops aren’t busy cause that is a waste of their time.
    about an hour ago · 1
    Donna Flowers Yep…not much else for them to do in this town. LOL Thank G_D for that though. :) At least they’re having a good laugh.
    about an hour ago

  • SSDaisy1981

    I am having trouble login in on facebook/security code

  • Threecsstudios

    My 16 year old daughter was asked to send pictures of her nude and I want her account shut down and I want the adult account shut down also. How can I reach someone to get this done.

    • Kim Masterson-curci

      You can report that person but also block that person from your daughters FB account. One bad apple shouldn’t punish your daughter from having her FB account she most likely has in order to interact with her friends. She should make her FB open only to friends she knows and there’s all kinds of ways she can make her life private not for the public to see. You can sit down with your daughter and go through the setting for her FB account together. And then check back and check these setting monthly with her. Explain you are just doing your duty as parent in protecting her from the harmful people out in the world. good luck.

    • Devendra

      No response

  • Kim Masterson-curci

    I really like your advice here to teens on this subject. I think it is the best advice I’ve ever seen. It’s simple and straight forward and the end result is Teens discussing with their friends the damage that such messages can bring not only to them but their over 18 friends, parents, teachers and such. The less you have to deal with the police the better, and the only way for that is to not go places where you get yourself involved in activities that can hurt others, offend, and are illegal. In life it’s always better to try to deal with sensitive issues of this nature at ground level first. We all are accountable for our actions and can stop such things by setting examples, deleting, not holding onto such pictures. Talking about these issues and the legal problems they are sure to create for everyone is the mature way to squash a problem before it gets bigger..

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  • DEE

    My daughter is 16yrs old. She keeps getting comments and messages from grown men (ages 30yrs +)from all aspects of the world. How can i report these men cause no matter how much you block them,they always find a way to get messages to her? One such person goes by the name of Sidh Sony.Fb need to find a way to protect our kids from perverts and paedophiles

    • Jared Bichler

      You can report these people to facebook and have her print out any mesages or comments she gets to save the evidence of being cyberbullied.

  • Linda Clavet

    Bonjour je suis une nouvelle sur facebook depuis peux .enchatend sur skype jai fait la connaisse dun homme qui mavais lere bien ok .mes je laimais bien .jai fait quelque chose que je regrette mtn mais voila il utilise ce materielle video pour m’extorque de largent il detien ma famille et mes amie sur facebook en otage et les menace .il veux de largent a tout pis ,jai communiquer avec la police de ma region jai ouvert un dossier ces ok ,mes il ne nous laisse pas tranquille, il detiens plusieur compte facebook, voici ces pseudo ………. alex rousseau
    alexandre rousseau
    jean-pierre daniel
    jean claude daubin
    olivia durant
    jaimerais que cette personne soie retire et bannie de facebook………
    jai fait des rapport dabus et de contunue abusive, et aussi de fause identite ,mes je ne comprent pas comment vous fonctinne enmesure de securite,mes la il pourri ma vie et cel de mes 4 enfants et membre de ma famille et amis(e).je ne sais pas comment entre en contact avec vous les gents de facebook .ce gars est pas honnette et ils est malades ,il veux post la video sur le net yut ube il as deja reusie a le mettre sur les murs des plusieur personne donc des colleges de mon travaille .je suis sur le bors de devir folles .je ne mange plus ,ne vie plus ,toute sa par ma naivete, jai besoin daide sil vous plait……je ne veux plus de ce monstre dans la vie de mes enfants et de tous ceux que je connais ……je suis vraiment a bout de nerf. jaimerais bien vous envoyer la photos de gars

  • Joy Kenyi

    I am really worried and secard coz I have an Ex-boyfriend who is using my photos to degrade me pretending to be a woman and also has some Facebooks account. He write so many bad things about me, and posting my pics all over his facebook account. I went to the police, they could not do any thing. He block me , and I am not friend with him in all the Facebook accounts, my friends keep telling me all wat is he doing to me, and they send all wat he said about me. He send messages to my closet friends telling them i am not a good person, and I like to break up with man. This is the person’s names Sharon Shmaill, Paul O’meyer, Paul Panda, and Paul Okwokene. Plz Facebook I need ur help. I am worried wat is next gonna happen to me.

  • Cory Burnett

    i just spent 40 min writing about my daughter went and posted it now where is it? i need help now you suck

  • Lauralae LovinMe Morrill

    My teenage step son and some of his friends from school have been receiving sexts from someone going by the name of Leonel Murray. In the sexts it says this person will be in my step sons area on Sunday and they can get some drinks. It states that he can text if he wants to “do” them. This person sext my step son at 2:43 in the morning!! I told stepson to make sure to block that person on here but how to I report this PEDOPHILE????

  • Rosie Elcombe

    great advice, you must tell someone that it could potenetially ruin their lives. If you find out that someone is sending nude pictures tell them or someone else that could help them.

  • Alissa Warren

    It’s concerning that so many parents are intending to “monitor” their children’s accounts. The root of the issue is that many teens feel as if they are adult enough to have these types of relationships or want to portray online that they are mature or sexually desirable. Is it a parent’s nightmare? Absolutely. However, going behind your child’s back and deleting their account, breaking into it, or pilfering through their private (and they do a have right to privacy) things is not alright and it will do nothing to gain your child’s respect or trust. In fact, it will most likely worsen the problem and they will continue to do the behaviors you do not agree with. The article touched on a great point that teens should delete the photos if they receive them. Be honest with your children and tell them how you feel, that you don’t think this type of behavior is appropriate, and the legal repercussions. Give them the tools to make the decisions for themselves (like deleting inappropriate photos), and you’ll not only help your child achieve what you wanted in the first place, but they won’t lose trust in you, either.

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