In an age where sending nudes has become normalized, we must educate young people on how to handle sexual content; sexting.

A JAMA Pediatrics study showed that 1 in 4 teens say they’re sexting—witness the sexting scandals that have popped up in small towns across America, from Duxbury, Massachusetts, to Cañon City, Colorado. The activity is also more common as young people get older, the study authors report.

Almost on a weekly basis we read headlines of adults being caught sexting minors or inappropriately, causing them to land in legal ramifications, not to mention losing their jobs. This is a perfect example that anyone (everyone) needs to be educated on using their devices safely when it pertains to sexual content.

Sexting is always about sex

When writing Shame Nation book, we interviewed a teenager that was involved in the sexting scandal in Duxbury, MA. Shockingly she said that sending nudes was common among girls.

“Girls were happy that their pictures were put there,” said Ginny (name changed for privacy). “It made them feel like all the boys loved them.”

Although there were some young people that were embarrassed and upset, when you talk to the girls directly, you find that what they dreaded most was not the reality that their naked bodies were circulating online, but the news getting out to the adults. “I don’t think the girls were all that embarrassed,” Ginny says. “They just were afraid of getting in trouble and sent to the police station with their parents.”

Safely handling sexual content

Hopefully you talk to your teen or tween (yes, tween) offline about online safety which probably includes how to handle inappropriate content when they receive it. Have you considered talking to them straight forward about handling sexual content – sexting – safely?

Cyberbullying Research Center founders, Drs. Hinduja and Patchin, understand, teens sexting is a problem, so “It is Time to Teach Safe Sexting.”

Hinduja and Patchin do want youth to understand that those who sext open themselves up to possible significant and long-term consequences, such as humiliation, extortion, victimization, school sanction, reputational damage, and even criminal charges. But they also want youth who are going to do it anyway to exercise wisdom and discretion to prevent avoidable fallout.

“This is not about encouraging sexting behaviors, any more than sex education is about encouraging teens to have sex,” said Hinduja. “It simply recognizes the reality that young people are sexually curious, and some will experiment with various behaviors with or without informed guidance, and sexting is no exception.”

Strategies for Safe Sexting

1. If someone sends you a sext, do not send it to—or show—anyone else. This could be considered nonconsensual sharing of pornography, and there are laws prohibiting it and which outline serious penalties (especially if the image portrays a minor).

2. If you send someone a sext, make sure you know and fully trust them. “Catfishing“— where someone sets up a fictitious profile or pretends to be someone else to lure you into a fraudulent romantic relationship (and, often, to send sexts)—happens more often than you think. You can, of course, never really know if they will share it with others or post it online, but do not send photos or video to people you do not know well.

3. Do not send images to someone who you are not certain would like to see it (make sure you receive textual consent that they are interested). Sending unsolicited explicit images to others could also lead to criminal charges.

4. Consider boudoir pictures. Boudoir is a genre of photography that involves suggestion rather than explicitness. Instead of nudes, send photos that strategically cover the most private of private parts. They can still be intimate and flirty but lack the obvious nudity that could get you in trouble.

5. Never include your face. Of course, this is so that images are not immediately identifiable as yours but also because certain social media sites have sophisticated facial recognition algorithms that automatically tag you in any pictures you would want to stay private.

6. Make sure the images do not include tattoos, birthmarks, scars, or other features that could connect them to you. In addition, remove all jewelry before sharing. Also, consider your surroundings. Bedroom pictures could, for example, include wall art or furniture that others recognize.

7. Turn your device’s location services off for all of your social media apps, make sure your photos are not automatically tagged with your location or username, and delete any meta-data digitally attached to the image.

8. If you are being pressured or threatened to send nude photos, collect evidence when possible. Having digital evidence (such as screenshots of text messages) of any maliciousness or threats of sextortion will help law enforcement in their investigation and prosecution (if necessary) and social media sites in their flagging and deletion of accounts.

9. Use apps that provide the capability for sent images to be automatically and securely deleted after a certain amount of time. You can never guarantee that a screenshot was not taken, nor that another device was not used to capture the image without you being notified, but using specialized apps can decrease the chance of distribution.

10. Be sure to promptly delete any explicit photos or videos from your device. This applies to images you take of yourself and images received from someone else. Having images stored on your device increases the likelihood that someone—a parent, the police, a hacker—will find them. Possessing nude images of minors may have criminal implications. In 2015, for example, a North Carolina teen was charged with possessing child pornography, although the image on his phone was of himself.