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624 0 0 0 1. 47 0 0 0 13 6. 5 0 1 0 6. If you’re a mom or dad and you learn that your child is sexting, that’s bound to set off alarms. And that sets up an interesting dynamic in terms of how parents should handle the situation. Fifty-four percent said yes—almost all of it in the context of a romantic relationship or as a means of flirting. Other messages were likely less gray, talking about sexual desire or activities and everything in between.

Participants acknowledged sexting as young as 13, but the vast majority were 16 and 17 when they sexted. And very few reported negative consequences from their actions. Drexel study reported being bullied as a result of sexting. All of which can make things tricky for parents, most of whom probably wish they simply didn’t have to deal with such an uncomfortable topic. Yet they should—ideally, as soon as a kid gets his or her first cellphone. So, what do you say?

For younger teens, set a bright line. Tell them sexting is off limits—period. Most of the time, those who are in middle school or even in ninth or 10th grade don’t have the experience to comprehend the impact that sexting can have. When it comes to older teens, however, recognize that sexting is often just a digital form of flirting. They are testing their level of appeal—something we have been doing for centuries.

That said, you should make clear to your older kids that dangers exist. Remind them that anything they do online leaves a permanent record—one that may come back to haunt them later. What may seem funny or flirtatious in the moment may not feel the same way a few months down the road. Remind them, too, that once they hit the send button, their words and images are out of their control. They can’t be confident that any sext will stay with the intended recipient. It’s also important to tell your older kids that not all sexting is equal.

If they’re going to insist on engaging in this activity, they should at least reserve their most explicit messages for those with whom they’re in a real relationship. Casual sexting, just like casual sex, is not a good idea. Finally, be sure to tell your kids—younger or older—that sexting can have serious legal ramifications. The Drexel study found that girls, in particular, are likely to sext photographs. These statues typically carry severe punishments, including jail time and having to register as a sex offender. In the Drexel study, nearly two-thirds of respondents were not aware of this risk. But many of those who were aware of the potential legal consequences modified their behavior.

The more they hear the message, the more likely it will be to sink in. TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice. Your browser will redirect to your requested content shortly.

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