News - Case Studies on Sexting

Case Study I

Texts from Strangers

The Situation

Janet’s mother wanted to be in contact with her 10-year-old daughter in case of an emergency. She gave Janet her first cellphone without any restrictions on who she could call or text. Janet was excited to have a new cellphone to connect with her friends and family.

Janet signed up for a texting service that would send her horoscope via text and she knew it was a “good” service because some of her friends had subscribed.

One day, Janet received a picture message of a nude male from an unknown number. Shocked and upset, Janet told her mom and said “she didn’t do anything wrong.” Janet’s mother was just as troubled by the message and wanted to prevent this from happening again. She called their wireless carrier and reported the problem. The carrier let them know the number was most likely phished from the text horoscope subscription. While Janet was able to keep her cellphone, Janet’s mother began working on rules and used parental control tools to protect her daughter.

What Worked

Janet told her mother immediately when she received the unpleasant “sext” so there was an open dialogue. Also, Janet’s mom responded appropriately by contacting her wireless carrier and trying to prevent any more unknown numbers from contacting her daughter. The carrier was helpful in informing Janet’s mom that there are options to control what can be sent, received and downloaded on her daughter’s phone.

What Didn’t Work

Before giving Janet a cellphone, Janet’s mom should have placed limits on what was allowed on the device, whether it’s time of day, purchasing capabilities, etc. Janet’s mother should have told her daughter that she should only text and/or call people that she knows. Also, Janet should have asked her mother before signing up for a texting service.


  • Establish an agreement so that everyone on your family plan understands what's acceptable. By creating these rules, and encouraging your kids to talk to you if something goes wrong, everyone is kept safe.
  • Instruct your kids to never give their number to strangers. Also, they should talk to you before they sign up for any services.  
  • Utilize the parental control tools, such as blocking downloads, blocking unknown numbers, etc.
  • Be aware that kids can text and send pictures through apps that aren’t sent over your carrier’s network so you may want to limit those app downloads. 

Case Study II

Too Much Trust

The Situation

Maria really liked John. Both seventeen years old and high school seniors, they sat together in several classes. Plus, he was always finding an excuse to bump into her in the hallway between classes. This prompted lots of awkward smiles and hidden glances.

Each of them had been using a smartphone since they were 13. They started sending messages to each other. The messages started out innocent enough. Emoticons. LOLs. Romance blossomed, and soon Maria was being encouraged by John to send him “private” photos, including a few that showed her posing in her underwear like a lingerie model.

Maria didn’t know John was sending these photos to Jimmy, his eighteen year old best friend. Sure, Jimmy promised to delete them from his phone after looking at them. But then he decided to post two of them to a social media site. The pictures of Maria spread like wildfire, first among classmates and then who-knows-where. Students started mocking Maria. When a teacher found out, the school’s principal and guidance counselor called the parents of Maria, John and Jimmy for an emergency meeting.

What Worked

The parents of Maria, John and Jimmy met to determine how many inappropriate pictures were sent and which ones were shared with Jimmy. They deleted what they could and asked the parents of other students to remove them from their social media pages.

The school couldn’t help remove the photos, but it did host several sessions for students and parents on the risks of sexting. They enlisted the county’s district attorney, to participate in these seminars since sexting between a minor and an adult, even if it was consensual, violated their local government’s laws and is considered child pornography. In this situation, Jimmy may not be prosecuted, but he will learn a lesson.

Maria’s parents searched the web for the images, and each time they found them, they sent an email to ask the person to remove it. While not everyone complied, the majority understood that it was embarrassing for Maria and agreed to delete it. Her parents wanted to try to “erase” Maria’s online reputation, since the colleges she had applied to may be checking when making their admissions decisions. Maria also went to the guidance counselor for weekly sessions to work through the emotional damage this experience caused.

What Didn’t Work

Maria made the mistake of taking the pictures and assuming John would respect her privacy. She also didn’t think about what might happen if these photos were shared, not only with her classmates, but on the Internet. Maria will also have to be aware that these photos could follow her not only when she’s applying for colleges, but also jobs. John made the same mistake with Jimmy. Jimmy claimed he didn’t realize the consequences, but he was still suspended because he used the school’s Wi-Fi network to upload the photos to a social media account.


  • Teach your kids that promises about privacy are often broken. Even if they trust the recipient, there’s no guarantee that others won’t see the photos or messages.
  • Explain there are laws about sending and sharing explicit images and texts that can ruin young lives.
  • Use parental controls to block the sources of inappropriate messages and texts. You may also choose to monitor your kids’ messages and activities, another parental control tool.
  • Once pictures are posted to the Internet, they are virtually impossible to remove.
  • As many teens have learned, the consequences of one bad decision can last a lifetime. That’s why it’s so important that parents teach their kids the importance of being responsible about what they share online.


Additional Resources

  • A Thin Line is MTV’s campaign against digital abuse. The website offers information on how to get help, support, spreading the word and facts about digital use and abuse.
  • Connect Safely is for parents, kids, educators and advocates and is user-driven.  
  • Family Online Safety Institute works to make the online world a safer place for kids and families. The website offers best practices, tools and methods to remain safe online.
  • FCC’s Parent’s Place offers information about how to improve your children's safety in today's complex media landscape, and what the FCC is doing to help.
  • OnGuard Online is a coalition of federal government agencies and the technology industry that created Net Cetera to offer an online safety guidebook for parents to help them communicate with their children about using mobile phones safely and responsibly.
  • That’s Not Cool is a national public education campaign that uses digital examples of controlling, pressuring, and threatening behavior to raise awareness about and prevent teen dating abuse. That's Not Cool is sponsored and co-created by Futures Without Violence (formerly Family Violence Prevention Fund), the Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women, and the Advertising Council.
  • gives parents an insight into sexting and how to prevent it or help their child if they are involved with a sexting problem.