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How to Talk to Your Teen About Sextortion

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

Stranger Danger in the 21st Century

We published an article recently called “Guns, Suicide, and Teens,” in which we talk about a disturbing threat to teenagers – teenage boys in particular – known as “sextortion.” We realize that word sounds like made-up internet slang, but it’s not. It’s used in official press releases by serious government agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), so we know it’s real. And we also know the dangers of sextortion are real, and can lead to significant distress in teens, up to and including suicide.

You read that correctly: sextortion is the known cause of suicide in at least two cases in the past six months alone. To learn more, please read our article above. If you’re the parent of a teen, it will open your eyes, and hopefully lead to important conversations with your teen about the dangers of what can happen when they interact with strangers online – and make the mistake of sending explicit pictures, videos, or other types of content.

At the end of that article, we offered a series of tips about how teens can protect themselves online, and how you can help your teen if they find themselves in a sextortion situation. We stress the importance of open, honest, and direct, communication.

However, not every parent knows how to talk to their teens about difficult or potentially embarrassing subjects.

This article is for those parents, and include tips on how to initiate these conversations, which, again, may understandably be awkward and uncomfortable for both parent and teen.

Tips on Having “The Talk”

We’ll jump right in, here, with a list of suggestions published by the FBI in the online article “Sextortion: An Online Threat to Kids and Teens.”

Here’s what they recommend:

How to Talk to Your Teen About Sextortion: FBI Advice

Here are three 30-second conversations you can have with your kids or kids you know.

  1. The New Version of Don’t Talk to Strangers:
  • When you’re online, has anyone you don’t know ever tried to contact or talk to you?
  • What did you do?
  • What would you do if that happened?
  • Why do you think someone would want to talk to a child or teen online?
  • It’s easy to pretend to be someone you’re not online. Not every person is a good person. Make sure you block or ignore anything that comes in from someone you don’t know in real life.
  1. The Power of a Picture:
  • Has anyone you know ever sent a picture of themselves that got passed around school or a team or club?
  • What’s possible anytime you send someone a picture?
  • What if that picture were embarrassing?
  • Can you think about how someone could use that kind of picture against a person?
  • Did you know that anything you send online can be copied and spread around?
  • Did you know that can even happen on apps that promises content will disappear after a certain amount of time?
  1. I’m Here to Help:
  • I read an article today about teenagers being pressured to send sexually explicit images and people they meet online. Have you ever heard about anything like that?
  • Do you know anyone that’s happened to?
  • Sometimes they were being threatened, harassed, or blackmailed. That’s scary.
  • If something like that every happens to you, whether its online or in real life, you can come to me. I’ll help.
  • My first concern is your safety, and I’m here to help.

Communication Wins Every Time

The best way to find out what’s going on with your teen is by asking them. If you established clear lines of communication when they were young, keep those lines of communication open during pre-adolescence and adolescence. If you and your teen don’t communicate well, now that they’re older, that’s okay: you can still talk to them. They may not engage in the way you’d like, but they will hear you. If you make it clear you’re there for them and love them unconditionally no matter what happens, they’ll get the message.

If you send that message enough, it increases the likelihood they’ll open up. More importantly, when you send that message enough – and make it unmistakable – it increases the likelihood they’ll come to you when they’re in trouble.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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