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You and your daughter used to be “besties.” She was your princess; you were her knight in shining armor. Y’all were like peas and carrots, PB and jelly, Gronk and Brady…

Then KABLAM! She turned into a teenager. Which resulted in radio silence…

Been there, currently doing that, wearing the proverbial t-shirt at this very moment. 

And if that t-shirt were for real, it’d have a sad face on it. Because as a girl-dad, it’s a horrible feeling to think you and your daughter don’t talk as much as you used to. 

I’m sure the questions have run through your mind: How did this happen? Is this normal? Did I do something wrong? Am I just uncool? 

These are all valid questions, except for that last one. 

From one girl-dad to another, I’m breaking it to you: Yes, you are uncool. That time you picked your daughter up from school blasting Vanilla Ice? Uncool. When you walked by her Zoom call wearing a cowboy hat and bathrobe? So uncool. (Although you have mad respect from me.)

But I digress… Without further ado, here are five possible reasons teen girls stop talking to their dads: 

1. It’s normal.

Seriously. As a teen, your daughter is in a stage of developing her independence. Her brain is prepping her for the day when she’s on her own. (Grab the tissues, Pops.) All teens go through it to some degree. And what results is a necessary pulling away from her parents. (Learn more about this here.)

2. She doesn’t feel understood. 

Sometimes I forget that just because I’m her dad doesn’t mean my daughter feels like I’m approachable. Teen girls need to feel safe with their dad in order to open up and talk. If I’m in the habit of giving her advice when she doesn’t want it, or I tend to be more critical than supportive, she’s going to feel misunderstood. 

3. She doesn’t know how to get closer to you. 

Wait,” you say, “but we used to be close!” Yes, but that was before teenhood struck. Here’s what research tells us: most teenagers say they want to be closer to their parents, but they aren’t sure how. For your daughter, relating to dad as a child was different than it is as a teen. You might be the same, but she’s changing (as she should be). For her, this is all unexplored territory—not just being a teenager, but being a teenage daughter.

4. You don’t know how to get closer to her. 

When your little girl starts turning into a young lady, it’s sometimes hard for a dad to know how to connect. It’s easy to think, “I’m not sure I know how to relate to her anymore. She’s so different than when she was little.” Maybe this is a time she needs her mom (or another mom-figure—and not me). As a result, many dads react by pulling away. 

5. There’s more to it than development.

As dads, we don’t want to think about this, but we should be aware. Withdrawing from friends or activities, falling grades, or constant irritability may indicate a deeper issue. In this case, monitor what you see. Let your daughter know you’re concerned for her, and seek professional help if needed. (Read How Do I Know if My Teen is Depressed?)

Fellow dads, let me encourage you! Your teen girl still needs you in her life. She wants to talk to you, even though she might not come out and say it. And if she’s stopped talking to you, it’s not hopeless. Stay in the pocket, keep engaging, let your daughter know you support her. Let her know she’s still the Gronk to your Brady, no matter how much Vanilla Ice you play in your car. 

It’s hard to watch our teens feel insecure or see them lacking self-confidence. We want to encourage them to be more confident in themselves. So, we often have specific knee-jerk reactions to their insecurity. It’s easy to understand why. 

As parents, we…

  • Want them to see themselves in all the wonderful ways we see them. 
  • Know a lack of confidence can keep them from trying new things and finding their passions. 
  • Understand how confidence is a valuable character quality and will help them be successful in life. 

Fortunately, we don’t have to just watch them oozing insecurity and low self-confidence

Here are four things you can do to help encourage an insecure teen. But first, a couple of things NOT to do.

We sometimes try these two “shortcuts to security,” but they often make matters worse.

  • We Over-Praise Our Teens. Teens can sniff this out right away—especially if they just finished some low-risk, easy task or they know they didn’t do their best.
  • We Emphasize Results Over Effort and Perseverance. Just tell them to do their best and have fun. Accept the results the way you want your teen to accept them and grow from them. (Critique behavior, NOT your teen as a person.)

Instead of parenting your insecure teen in those ways, try doing these four things: 

  1. Be honest and vocal about your own insecurities. We all have insecurities and areas where we lack confidence. If you’re honest and talk to your teen about these things, you normalize those feelings for your teen. This is important because of what you’re going to do next…
  1. Model how to face your insecurities and work through your lack of confidence. Let your teen hear your positive, grounded self-talk. Allow them to see how you prepare for challenges. Tell them your goals. Be mindful of how you respond to your own successes and failures.
  1. Be a parent your teen wants to talk to and develop a healthy relationship with. This involves being available and regularly spending time with your teen. It means being a good listener and not overreacting or bombarding your teen with a million questions. Listen “between the lines” for the source(s) of their insecurity. Be gentle.
  1. Talk to your teen about social media. Model healthy media use. Yes, social media. It impacts how your teen forms and values their identity. Talk to your teen about the “unreality” of social media and the dangers of the comparison game. Your teen is looking at someone’s staged, filtered, touched-up highlight reel and comparing it to their own “behind-the-scenes” footage.

Most of us feel insecure sometimes, but some teens feel insecure most or all of the time. 

—These feelings can be because of their childhood, traumatic experiences, past failures, or rejection. You’ll want to explore all these things with your teen, but you have to be the kind of parent they’ll open up to.

—Your teen may be dealing with depression, loneliness, or social anxiety they need to see a professional about. Put counseling on the table as a positive, normal step.

—Sometimes, our perfectionism or criticism has contributed to our teen’s insecurity and lack of confidence. If you feel that may be the case, be honest with your teen, own what you need to own, and apologize. 

Insecurity and low self-confidence are not “light switch” problems. You can’t just flip a switch to make your teen secure and confident. Insecurity and low self-confidence are “thermostat” problems. You can’t “dial it up” for your insecure teen, but you can encourage them. Create a healthy environment, be a role model, and open the lines of communication. Then, your teen can grow in confidence and security!

Related Blogs:

5 Ways to Help Your Child Be More Confident

How to Be a Parent Your Child Wants to Talk To

5 Ways to Help Your Teen Through the Unknown

How to Prevent Depression in Teens

How to Help My Child Handle Anxiety

5 Mistakes Parents Make With Teens

Parenting a teenager is easy, said no one, ever. But it can be easier if you know what to avoid.

When you became a parent, you were probably bombarded with “sage” advice for all the stages of parenting. Much of it you immediately threw away. There may have been a few statements that stuck in your psyche like:

Just wait until they start walking. They will get into everything.

Oh, just wait until they reach the terrible twos! “No” becomes their favorite word.

You think the terrible twos are bad, just wait until they become TEENAGERS.

Once you hear that last statement, you may unconsciously begin to anticipate the worst. (Or you may do what I did: Immediately call your parents to apologize for your teen behavior.) No matter what, the teen years are coming. The key is to prepare yourself for when the time comes so you can avoid the mistakes many parents make with their teens.

Whether you’re just beginning the teen journey or entirely in the middle of teenage life, it’s vital you are aware of five mistakes parents of teens often make.

1. Failing to Prepare Your Teen for Adulthood by Problem-Solving for Them.

Your child needs to learn how to think for themselves and solve problems. Being your child’s constant problem-solver doesn’t prepare them for adulthood. You may continue to see your child as the baby that changed your life. However, they are growing up and need to be prepared for college, military service, and/or the workforce. Allowing your child to try, fail, and try again, is invaluable in building their sense of self-confidence. They need your support, but remember to prepare your child for the road, not the road for your child.

2. Choosing the Wrong Battle.

Being the parent of a teenager can be difficult. However, making everything they do a big deal makes it worse. Your teen will probably have different tastes in music, fashion, and entertainment than you. It’s okay and perfectly normal. You may dislike your child’s purple hair and loud music. In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter? Is that the battle you really want to fight?  When you attempt to say “yes” to as many things as possible, it makes saying “No” stand out more.

3. Trying to be Perfect.

Yes, your teen will be watching you. Watching how you react to a variety of situations. They need to know it’s okay to make mistakes. When you model how to learn from mistakes and regroup, it shows them that messing up isn’t fatal. Thomas Edison said it best: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

4. Because You Think They Aren’t Listening, You Stop Talking. 

Culture and media tell parents they have little influence on their teens. This is not true. As a parent, you continue to have a MAJOR impact on how your child handles “big ticket” items like drugs, alcohol use, and sex. Yes, they may roll their eyes and tell you that you don’t understand. Nevertheless, keep talking. Keep asking questions about what’s going on in their world. Keep listening.

5. You Are All Business and No Play or All Play and No Business.

You may remember the old saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” The opposite is true, as well. All play and no work makes Jack a freeloader. The focus is to provide balance for your teen. They need to know the boundaries and expectations you have for them while having the freedom to act within what you have set. Yes, they have to prepare for college and adulthood. But that shouldn’t prevent you from spending some quality downtime together. 

Parenting teens has been compared to so many different things, from roller coasters to waves to keeping a car in the middle of the road. Continuing to be present and a presence in their life no matter how difficult they make it or say they don’t want or need you is vital. Your teen will make missteps on their journey to adulthood. As a parent, you may make a few mistakes guiding your teen on this path as well. In the words of Samuel Beckett, “Try, Fail, Try Again, Fail Better.”

5 Things All Teens Need From Their Parents (From Parents Of Teenagers)

7 Ways to Deepen Your Connection With Your Teen

How Do I Get My Teen To Talk To Me?

The best advice is always in the comment section. It’s an adage that’s proven right over and over. Doesn’t even matter what kind of publication. So, I’m reading an article online by a national beacon of journalism about the things teens need most from their parents. 

Couldn’t wait to get to the comment section!

Having raised four teens and enjoying my last, I’m always looking for some pointers. I’ve been in high schools for 25 years, so I read the article with a ton of curiosity. I’m no expert. Every one of my teens has been different and challenging in their own way.

But make no mistake, Beacon of Journalism, they’re not rocket science…

The article divides the teenage years into very neat 2-year increments. It gives some reasonably decent, general thoughts on each two year period. Turns out, wait for it, teens need coaching, support, good examples, and most of all, understanding. Fair enough. Many teens don’t get those things at home. 

This is all based on the latest brain-scanning technology and the latest research, including longitudinal studies. (Studying the same subjects over a period of time, as opposed to research that studies a group once. Think video over a snapshot.) These studies are “…changing scientists’ views on the role parents play in helping children navigate a volatile decade.”

Question: How were parents raising their children before brain scans and longitudinal studies and scientists told us how to parent and what things teens need from us?

Remember, the best advice is always in the comment section. The comment section may not be full of scientists, but it is filled with parents with actual experience with teens. No brain scans. Not a scientist or a longitudinal study in sight.

Could we learn some of the things teens from actual parents of teens in the comments? 

Here Are Five Gems (Plus a Bonus Funny)

  1. 99% of successful parenting is being there. Really being there.
  2. Don’t rob them of the struggle. Teach them hard work and discipline.
  3. As the parent of two now mature and successful daughters, I believe that other than showing unconditional love, one of the best teachers is to let them screw up and learn the hard way what works and what doesn’t.
  4. I have been trying to mentor a teen whose parents did nothing for him but put clothes on his back and shoes on his feet. He is 20 years old operating on animal instincts. If character is not taught, many of the other attributes are useless. He is hurting badly from absentee parents who never taught him character or anything else.
  5. Understanding is overrated. As an adult, do you whine to the IRS to “understand” the tax code? Teens need healthy and firm boundaries. And then held accountable to those boundaries. To give them too much in the way of material things or too much of anything is to create whining, spoiled babies. They need to be required to contribute to the family in terms of household duties so they feel valued. And you always show them love when you take away their devices for non-compliance. 

Not bad advice at all. Just like parents don’t want to wonder where their teens are, no teen should have to wonder if they are loved. Didn’t even have to plug in my brain scanner. Thanks, parents.

✦ Here’s a bonus funny: 

When I was a teenager, my parents moved a lot, but I always found them.

If there is a generational divide today it is definitely digital. It’s not like parents don’t know how to use smartphones and understand how to use social media—they do (mostly). The generational divide is a mentality. Parents send texts and make posts on social, but they fail to realize that online, digital life is the main life that matters to their teens. What’s worse is, parents sometimes seem blissfully unaware of some of the dangers that left unchecked and unsupervised, can get their teen into serious trouble. And if they don’t understand the dangers, they can’t possibly be talking to their teens about them.

Dating Violence in the Digital Age Pop Quiz:

  1. You probably know what “sexting” is, but what is “sextortion?”
  2. How many clicks is PornHub, a porn site filled with often violent porn, from Snapchat?
  3. Define “sexual bullying.”
  4. What percent of teens who experienced digital abuse also experienced physical abuse?
  5. True or False: If you aren’t dating, you are less likely to be abused and harassed.

Answers:

  1. “Sextortion” is using threats or pictures already in your possession to get an individual to send more (often more explicit photos or videos) or sometimes even money to ensure you don’t send out pictures to the school or family members on social media.
  2. 5 clicks from one of the most popular teen apps. And pornography is often teaching boys (and girls) about human sexuality and what is acceptable and normal behavior—even if it is violent.
  3. “Sexual bullying” is the name-calling, psychological, and often physical abuse suffered by someone who has had a compromising photograph shared around the school. It has caused victims to have to switch schools and even commit suicide.
  4. 52% of teens who have experienced digital abuse will also experience physical abuse.
  5. False. Not being in a dating relationship does not spare someone from the potential abuse physically or online.

★ Here is one more sobering statistic—while 25% of teens are harassed or abused digitally, only about 9% seek out help. (And it is rarely from parents or teachers.)

Based on the data, if parents want to help guide and guard against things like this happening to their children, they really need to get educated and be willing to initiate conversations with their children. Otherwise, you’re leaving your teen to navigate a Digital City with creepy people and dangerous back alleys.

A. Be a parent that is approachable, askable, and relatable.

Don’t freak out over what you hear. Steer clear of interrogating your teen with a million questions. If you can’t keep your emotions in check, your teen won’t talk to you about the digital part of their lives for a really long time. (Also, realize your teen could do nothing wrong and something explicit could be sent to their phone.)

Smartphones, the internet, video games, and social media all have their benefits and their dangers. Fortunately, there are tons of resources available on the internet to educate yourself.

B. Be aware of the signs of dating abuse and harassment.

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. They have an excellent list on their website of warning signs.

Have you noticed any of these warning signs in your teen?

C. Help your teen be aware of the short-term consequences AND long-term.

Not only could your teen become the victim of mental, psychological, and physical abuse, but a simple nude photo sent to their boyfriend or girlfriend puts their future at significant risk. The internet is forever, no matter how much they may think something is deleted. When a future employer or the school of their choice Googles their name, what’s going to come up?

Use these resources below to help you start the conversation about dating violence in the digital age…

6 Tips for Teaching Your Teen Healthy Dating Habits

8 Warning Signs of Unhealthy Dating Relationships

10 Red Flags in a Dating Relationship

What to Do if Your Teen is Sexting

How to Talk to Your Teen About Sexting

What To Do If Your Teen Is Having Sex

How Do I Get My Teen To Talk To Me?    

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

How Do I Talk to My Teen About Their Romantic Relationships?

Here's one key to guiding your teen through romance.

I was sitting at my middle school son’s football game. Some parents around me were discussing who was dating who in the school. I kept quiet during the conversation, but was anxiously waiting for them to mention my son. They did. I was astonished and a little embarrassed because I was totally unaware my son was “dating.” I knew for a fact he didn’t go anywhere with anyone. That’s what I consider “dating.” All he did was talk on his phone. 

How does that constitute dating? 

As soon as we left the game, I must confess I blindsided him with the question, “How is your girlfriend?” [Mom Smirk.] He gave me one of those looks only a teenager could give. “Mom, I don’t have a girlfriend.” [Teen Eye Roll.] “That’s not what I heard.” The more we went back and forth, the more frustrated he became, and the angrier I became. He was ADAMANT  he didn’t have a girlfriend. Truth be told, I was confused. I soon recognized that not believing him was damaging our relationship

How could I have prevented this from happening? 

Could I have better engaged my son in a conversation about his “romantic relationship?”

How can my misstep help you?

⇨ Related: 6 Tips for Teaching Your Teen Healthy Dating Habits

Learn The Language

This is a time when the teacher becomes the student. Be humble and allow your teen to teach you the new relationship lingo. Your willingness to learn and listen shows you respect your teen’s perspective and you care about what’s going on in their world. 

Recognize and Accept Things Have Changed

When your teen says things have changed, believe them. The words and labels they use—DIFFERENT. The modes of communication they use—DIFFERENT. The definition of relationships—DIFFERENT. Trying to impose the “old way” on them will be met with rolled eyes, resistance, or worse. 

Be An Askable Parent When You Talk to Your Teen About Romantic Relationships

Take time to listen. Be open and genuine. You might hear some “stuff” that shocks or surprises you. You have to use your poker face. You’ll be tempted to turn a conversation into an interrogation. If your teen perceives a negative reaction from you or gets bombarded with a billion questions or a long lecture, it can cause them to stop talking and create distance.

⇨ Related: How Do I Get My Teen To Talk To Me?

Build Up Your Relationship

Cultivating and maintaining your relationship with your teen provides space for this conversation. As your teen grows, your relationship with them should grow from more directive to coaching them through life and relationships. The more you try to control or force a relationship with your teen, the more they can pull away from you. 

If your teen says they are in a romantic relationship, here are some conversation starters to ask your teen:

  1. Are you able to be yourself in the relationship?
  2. Do you show respect and feel respected in your relationship?
  3. Do you have realistic expectations about the relationship?
  4. Are you feeling pressured in your relationship?
  5. Do you feel you have the time to devote to the relationship?

The key to guiding your teen through romantic relationships is to stop being a talkative parent and become a parent your teen wants to talk to. Keeping the lines of communication open between you and your teen builds and supports the relationship

Sure, “dating” might look different now, but there is still no substitute for a close, healthy relationship with your teen.

Check out some other blogs on healthy dating habits here:

(Part 2) – Check out Part 1, How to Talk to Your Teen About Sexting

In part one, we talked about giving your child a smartphone and what they need to know about sexting to protect themselves. Now, regardless of how you found out, you know your teenage son or daughter is sexting. Step #1, get a hold of your own emotions—embarrassment, guilt, disappointment, shock, anger—so you can have a productive conversation with your teen. If you need to go for a walk, phone a friend, talk to your spouse—whatever. It’s completely okay to tell your teen, “We’ll discuss this tomorrow.It’s not only okay, but it is also very wise. You have thoughts to get together.

Thought #1: What do I want to accomplish with this conversation—for my teen and for myself as a parent? Don’t rush thinking this through. Have goals.

Thought #2: This isn’t going to be a one-time talk. You want to open the door for an ongoing conversation about sexting as well as other difficult teen conversations—pornography, sex, drugs, alcohol, dating violence, etc. You want to be an empathetic, askable parent who your teen feels comfortable talking to about anything.

Thought #3: Try to find a time and place that allows for private undistracted, uninterrupted conversation. 

[Here’s an example of a real conversation about pornography. Notice the parent doesn’t lecture, doesn’t ask a million questions, doesn’t guilt-trip their child. The parent clearly doesn’t condone pornography but is more interested in gently probing their teen’s thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. This doesn’t mean there will be no consequences. But the parent is trying to build a relationship to keep these kinds of talks going.]

Step 1

In a calm, direct voice, ask your teen about the circumstances around the sexting. Then wait and really listen to them without judgmental faces or tones. Keep your mind and your body language open. You can disapprove of what your teen did but still be deeply concerned about them, validate their feelings, and the fallout of their choices. 

✦A word about punishments for sexting. The normal, obvious go-to is to take their phone away. Maybe you need to in their situation. This might be their 5th offense. They may not be ready for the responsibility that comes with a smartphone. Maybe they need an off-the-shelf phone that just allows them to talk and text. 

I don’t usually dabble in how parents punish their kids. Every kid and every family is different. I will say this: I’m a big fan of letting the universe handle some of the disciplining of my kids. I’m referring to natural and logical consequences. Sometimes the punishment is built into the poor choice. The choice to sext often has some built-in consequences like guilt, humiliation, a destroyed reputation, being bullied online and in real life, getting in trouble at school, the law getting involved, and on and on. You know your child better than anyone. How are they navigating these consequences? Do you need to drop the hammer on them or help them up? We’ve all done something we regretted. Making mistakes is a normal part of growing up. The important thing is to learn from it.

Step 2

Ask probing questions. NOTE: This is different than an interrogation. As you have a conversation, try to work in some of these questions.

  • What do you get out of sexting? How does it make you feel?
  • Did you feel pressured to do it?
  • Did the recipient promise not to show anyone?
  • What is considered “normal” about sexting among your peers?
  • Have you received sexts? What did you do with them?
  • Are there things on your phone you wouldn’t want me to see?
  • What has been the fallout of your sexting?
  • Do you think sexting is wrong? Why or why not?

Resist the urge to lecture or ask a million follow-up questions. Act comfortable and be direct. Show you’re really listening and trying to understand your teen and let them feel heard. You may not get to all this in one conversation. That’s okay. Know when to stop the conversation. You can always pick it back up. Let your teen know you love them no matter what.

Step 3

There are some things your teen needs to know about sexting. (They will roll their eyes. Ignore it.) You have a responsibility as a parent to make sure they know and understand certain things. So what are you supposed to do, whether you think your teen is sexting already or whether you’re worried they might start in the future? Believe it or not, you’re not completely powerless. So what can you do? Sheknows.com breaks it down.

  • Talk to your teen. A scary thought for many of us, but one of those unavoidable responsibilities of parenting. Talk to them about the possible long-term consequences of getting involved in sexting. Like the fact that nude images of kids under age 18 are child pornography, which is illegal. Talk about the short-term consequences, like the whole school getting a hold of a “private” photo shared with a former boyfriend or girlfriend. Talk about self-esteem and self-respect. Consider how you might be setting yourself up for a lot of drama.
  • Set rules. Do you let your kids drive drunk? Do you let them ride in the car with no seat belts? So why give them something as dangerous as a cell phone and not establish rules? Start random phone checks, and go through everything on it regularly.
  • Take away the cell phone. Drastic, yes, but sometimes necessary when nothing else is working. If you truly don’t trust your child, why would you trust them with a tool they can use to bully others? 

Resources:

Common Sense Media: Sexting Handbook

Amanda Todd Legacy Society

Amanda Todd YouTube Video (Some might find content disturbing.)

6 Things Every Teen Needs to Know About Sexting

Why Is Sexting a Problem for Teens?

The Consequences of Sexting for Teens

If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

(Part 1), Check out Part 2, What to Do If When Your Teen is Sexting

Maybe one of the biggest generational divides today is digital. Parents think it’s just a mobile phone that you can check email on and get driving directions. They can listen to music, shop, and keep up with friends on Facebook. For a parent, usually, their phone is just a part of their life.

But to kids, a smartphone IS their life. Online is where the action’s at—at least the action that matters. It’s where they “hang out” with their friends and flirt and gossip. It’s where they carry on their romantic relationships. It is also where they stand up for beliefs and express opinions. It’s not just a phone for them. It’s a passport to a world where their identity is fluid, time and space are more than relative, there are very few rules and often very little parental supervision.

So, it shouldn’t be surprising that parents often seem in the dark about sexting. This is why so many parents can’t believe their shy, introverted, reserved daughter is sending nude pictures of herself to classmates or her boyfriend. “She’s not that kind of girl!” She probably isn’t—in the real world.

But it’s a whole different world online.

Get past the parental, “Why would they do that?

Keep in mind that to most teens, sexting has been normalized. Sexting is a “normal” way to interact with their peers. Many young people see nothing wrong with sexting, especially if “everyone is doing it,” or they are in a “committed” relationship. Meanwhile, some teens sext because they’ve been dared or they’re trying to entice someone. Some view it as a joke, and sadly, teens often feel pressured to sext. 

Think of the combination of being at an age when you are already curious about sex and also have all this technology at your disposal. Some teens find the combination irresistible.

1. What is “sexting?”

Sexting involves the exchange of sexually suggestive or explicit content, such as messages or photographs, between mobile devices. Interestingly enough, the word was first listed in the dictionary in 2012—around the time smartphones were gaining popularity among teens. (The good news is that actual sex among teens has been going down for the last 10 years according to the CDC. But the bad news is, many attribute this decrease in actual sex to increases in the use of pornography and sexting.)

A study in JAMA Pediatrics published in 2009 found that about 15% of those between the ages of 12 and 17 had sent sexts. And approximately, over 25% have received them. 

Almost 10 years later, according to research by JAMA in 2018, as many as 1 in 8 youth send or forward sexts without permission, which can devastate the subject or recipient of such messages. One report uncovered that some children as young as 10 years old are exposed to sexting. Unfortunately, 54% of teens under the age of 18 admit to having sent sexually-tinged messages or inappropriate pictures. 

So, sexting is on the rise.

We know that 53% of teens who sext are girls while 47% are boys. 1 in 5 teens has sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves. Almost 20% of teens have reported being forwarded a picture or video that was not intended for them, with over half of those teens admitting to forwarding it to more than one other person

As we try to get accurate information on a subject that depends on self-reporting, the bottom line is that sexting is a growing teen reality that’s here to stay.

2. When should I talk to my child about it?

As soon as they get a cellphone or smartphone. Don’t wait until there’s an issue or you find something on their phone. This is a conversation that comes with receiving a phone. HERE is a great article about when and how you should give your child a phone.

All they might need to know is that some people use their phones for inappropriate things. If they receive a text, a request, or a picture that makes them feel uncomfortable, they need to bring it to Mommy or Daddy right away. They aren’t in trouble, Mommy and Daddy just want to talk to them about how to handle it. Remember, your child can do NOTHING wrong and still accidentally come across inappropriate content or have it sent to them.

3. How do I talk with my child about sexting?

Don’t lecture. Do not freak out if you’ve found something on your teen’s phone or you hear what some of their friends are doing. ASK QUESTIONS—compassionately and empathetically. Be a good active listener. HERE is a great blog about talking to your teen in general. HERE & HERE are great blogs about talking to your teen about sensitive topics like pornography and sex. They have great principles that apply to talks with your teen about sexting, too.

Remember—this is an opportunity. You can have a tone and approach that opens the door for future conversations and draws your teen toward you OR you can have a tone and approach that slams this important door shut and pushes your teen away. (And they won’t be talking to you about anything personal for a long, long time.)

4. What topics should I cover?

  • When nude pictures or partially nude pictures involve minors, many states consider this child pornography. Although state laws vary, in some states exchanging nude photos of minors also is considered a felony—even when the photos taken and shared are consensual. (These are the sexting laws from state to state.)
  • Remind your kids that once an image is sent, it can never be retrieved and they will lose control of it—even if they “delete” it. The image is out there forever. Ask teens how they would feel if their teachers, parents, or the entire school saw the picture because that happens all the time. (Remember, the part of their brain that takes long-term consequences into account when decision-making, literally has not fully developed yet. Teens are stuck in a moment and they can’t get out of it.)
  • Talk about pressures to send revealing photos. Let teens know that you understand how they can be pushed or dared into sending something. Tell them that no matter how big the social pressure is, the potential social humiliation from the spread of the picture can be hundreds of times worse. Remind them that they are opening themselves up to blackmail or “sextortion.” (Someone with a picture of them may threaten to post it all over their social media if they don’t send more.) It’s a big deal. A number of teens have committed suicide because their picture went around school with the sexual bullying that goes with it. Over half of the kids who experience online bullying also experience bullying in the real world. 
  • Teach them that we live in a world where getting a scholarship, a job, or into the school of their choice, often depends on what comes up when someone Googles their name. They need to know that the internet is forever.
  •  Empower them. If someone sends them a photo, they should delete it immediately. It’s better to be part of the solution than the problem. Besides, if they do send it on, they’re distributing pornography—and again, that’s against the law. They should know they can say no.

Even if your teen decides they totally trust the person, or they’re dating the person, it’s worth it to think about a few “what ifs” before sexting.

What if…

  • The recipient loses his or her phone?
  • A friend scrolls through his or her messages and sees it?
  • A parent checks the recipient’s phone and sees it?
  • The recipient changes his or her mind about not sharing it?
  • The relationship circumstances change? (They break up. Photo(s) goes EVERYWHERE, even to sweet Nana. This is called revenge porn.)

Is your teen willing to take ALL those risks?

Talking to your teen about sexting can be awkward and uncomfortable (for both of you), but it also has the potential to strengthen the bond between you and your teen. Just like other uncomfortable topics, probe gently, be a good listener, be an “askable” parent, and remember these aren’t one-time talks; these are ongoing conversations. You can do it!


If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.