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Sexting: What It Is & How To Talk To Your Child About It

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Sexting or sending ‘nudes’ is a common occurrence between teens today and something that all parents need to be aware of, and speaking to your child about. Cue the cringe from them!

This topic can often fall into the ‘awkward/ I’d rather not think about it category for parents but just like all the other conversations around sex and porn you need to be having with your child who is online, this has to be up there as a priority. It’s so important to start and then keep having these types of conversations with your child. If you don’t, they will be educated in the playground or online – I know where I’d rather my children got their facts from!  

As well as talking to them about the risks and reasons why not to do it, we, as parents, need to understand the pressures to send images that some children face. Make sure you are approaching the topic with empathy and understanding of their world and the influences they can experience today, rather than panic and stress at the thought of them sending (or already having sent) an inappropriate or nude image/video.

So, what do you need to know and how and when should you be talking to your child about this?

What is the issue and what is actually happening?

Sexting can now be seen as the first step in a relationship! Scary thought for parents but one we need to wake up to. Sending nudes can often come before any physical sexual contact now, due to the ease and expectation.

Research by the UK non-profit Internet Matters and the Youthworks charity recently found that the pressure to send intimate images appears to increase as children get older.  No real surpise here BUT they need to be made aware of the potential consequences and implications of sending that ‘one photo’ when they were in that hormonal overdrive and exciting new or first relationship. The investigation found that many children sexted simply because they wanted to — with 38 per cent doing it as part of a relationship and just under a third of respondents reported doing it ‘just for fun’.

However, around one in five teenagers who have sent nude or explicit ‘sexts’ say that they were coerced or blackmailed into it the survey reported.

Polling found that while 15 per cent of 13-year-olds had felt pressure to sext, this rose to 17 per cent of 14-year-olds and 23 per cent of those aged 15 and above.

The study also found that 17 per cent of those surveyed had images shared without their consent and 14 per cent experienced harassment because of their sexts.

Meanwhile, 14 per cent reported that they received either pressure or threats to send additional images.

It comes as no surprise that the figures rise as the age range does. We know teens are more likely to take risks and want to push boundaries, this is a normal part of growing up, but the stakes can be higher when they are online and it can seem so easy and harmless to send off a couple of pics, without much thought, either due to excitement of a new relationship or pressure. Results also showed that children who learnt about online safety from their parents or carers are less likely to share nude images. Another reason to start these conversations earlier rather than later.

Tweens, Teens & Sexting: What are the dangers and consequences:

Emotional/Mental Effects:

For many the consequences of sharing nude images can be devastating. Maybe not immediately but in time the image(s) can and do come back to haunt them. Many children who send them are not emotionally ready to handle the unfolding situation. It can be only too easy for them to fire off a photo in a moment of excitement or pressure, but the repercussions can be long lasting. Photos can be shared between peer groups at school/college or places of work and there is a feeling of helplessness as they have no control over that image and where it is now.

They may feel a mix of emotions from guilt, regret, shame and embarrassment, combined with feeling they cannot talk to an adult or get help as they will be in trouble or embarrassed further. I’m sure we can all remember these feelings at some point as a teenager.  Remind yourself of some of the risks you took or wanted to take.

Revenge Porn:

Another area we don’t want to connect with our children but unfortunately one that’s becoming more common, as in the adult world. Revenge porn occurs when someone posts online pornographic materials (video or photographs) of another person without their consent. These could be pictures taken without the person’s knowledge or with the person’s knowledge during a previous relationship. Later, these pictures are used as “revenge” for breaking off the relationship


This is a huge issue and one I will be doing a special focus on in the new year due to the scale of the problem. What is sextortion?

Once someone has received nudes, they may threaten to send them to family members, school, employers etc unless the other person agrees to certain demands. This is known as sextortion or sexual blackmail, and it can be incredibly dangerous. Shame and embarrassment may lead to teens doing anything to prevent photos from being leaked, including performing sexual acts, paying money, sending additional photos, and in far too many cases already has resulted in teenagers taking their own lives as they can see no way out!

Don’t think this is an issue only affecting girls, many sextortion cases are targeting young boys. A predator will set up a fake profile and send a topless image of an attractive young girl to befriend the boy and entice them to send compromising photos of themselves. The most common next step is making financial demands, which of course never stop, and can quickly lead to devastating results.

Here is one tragic story all parents should read and a reminder to us all how quickly a situation can escalate and how easily it can feel like there is no way out to a child or teenager:

The Law!

Depending on where you live, your child could face legal consequences for sending or receiving sexts. When sexting involves minors, it may violate child pornography laws — even if the messages are only exchanged between two kids

In the UK If you are under 18, it is against the law to: take, have or distribute a sexual photo; this includes a selfie. have or pass on indecent images of someone under 18. encourage or incite someone to take or send ‘sexts’ . It is quite clear and simple.

So, all children need to be aware that even if they didn’t take the photo or are in the photo, IF they receive the sexual photo of a person under 18, on their phone or device and then send it onto their friends, they are breaking the law by distributing the image. The only thing they should do is report it to an adult and then delete the image.

What if my child has already sent a nude?!

Ok, deep breaths! Deal with your emotions before you speak to your child. They need your support and help now, not a lecture or discipline – later yes maybe some consequences or discussions, but right now you need to manage the immediate situation and look after them.

Childline, has launched the Report Remove tool with the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) to help young people remove nude images of themselves from the internet.

The Report Remove tool can be used by any young person under 18 to report a nude image or video of themselves that’s appeared online. The IWF then review these reports, and work to have the content removed if it breaks the law. Childline also has trained counsellors who know the devastating impact this can have on young people and it may help for your child to speak to someone else who doesn’t know them.

How to start a conversation and build awareness

Show empathy & try to see it from their eyes.

Talk about how technology has changed the landscape for relationships and boundaries. Maybe give examples of what the risks or pressures were that you felt as a teen and how it made you feel to be involved or not.

Acknowledge that you are glad smartphones weren’t around when you were their age because ‘I’m not sure how I/my generation would have handled it/coped/behaved

This will help them feel less judged and help them see how it’s normal and part of growing up to explore and take risks – even their parents did! Connecting and relating to the harder parts of growing up can make them feel closer to you and more willing to open up. I’m sure you can think of a few mistakes you did, or thought about when you were a teenager! I’m certainly glad smartphones weren’t around!

Asking open questions such as “why do you think sending nudes has become so common today with your age group? Is it something you have heard people talking about?” will help them think critically about the situation and hopefully start a conversation rather than closed one word answers. Aim to make it more of an informal chat than a feeling of being talked to and told what to do or not do. It usually (not always!) has a better response.

Warning and preparing without fear mongering

As with all conversations about staying safe online it can be a fine line to tread between making them aware of the risks or dangers and scaring them so much they are afraid to use technology or talk to anyone.

It is, and will be a huge part of their lives and future careers. What we want is to get a generation of young people who can enjoy the benefits and manage their screen use so they stay safe and healthy. You could start by posing a question such as:

“Why do you think someone may send a nude photo of themselves? What do you think happens to those photos? What could be the worst thing that could happen?”

As with most of the dangers online, the fear we can have as parents is usually valid. We have life experience to know what is possible and does happen, but in the risk taking teenage brain it can be easy to come across as ‘overreacting or dramatic’. Although it is important to cover off worst case scenarios and give examples (there are plenty to be found unfortunately) balance this out with examples of the more practical ways it can come back to haunt them, such as college or job applications. More and more employers, colleges and universities are doing social media checks but also these photos can resurface at anytime causing a great deal of embarrassment if nothing else.

Give examples of how images online can have a long-term impact

“Remember the slap that took place during the Oscars with Chris Rock and Will Smith? It went viral, right? No matter what happens, from now on when you google Will Smith, that image and video will come up. That is what people think of now when you mention his name. He’s a world-famous film star, but that one night is going to be at the top of Google search results of him for a long time. The same can happen with any photos of you that are attached to your name, even if you’re not as famous as Will Smith!  

Using a recent current event based on someone they know really helps highlight how long images and videos can stay online and impact the people in them, regardless of who you are.

Any of it could come back to impact them in the future if schools/colleges or employers search for their name online. (Maybe use this time to do a quick google search on yourself!)

As with all matters to do with online safety, the best chance you have of protecting your child, whilst also educating them on this topic is talking, all……… the……….time………. 

Grab opportunities as and when they crop up to have a chat about sexting or any other topic. Rather than a big sit down lecture which will most likely not land well, talk little and often and make it a two -way chat, ask their opinion on topics and see what they will share. Always keep the end goal in mind – you want to raise a digital savvy and considerate tech user, who has a healthy relationship with their phone/devices. That won’t happen if we are constantly lecturing, fear mongering or fobidding tech. 

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