As a parent, it’s natural to feel uneasy about your child engaging in inappropriate exchanges. However, all children and young people will explore and role-play around gender and sexuality. It’s a normal part of growing up and self-discovery. Think back to when you were a child. How did you explore your own gender and sexuality?
Of course, this exploration comes with its own risks. That is why it’s important to explain to your child what these risks are. We don’t want to encourage inappropriate exchanges, instead, we want to prompt regular conversations between you and your child that can foster mutual understanding and contribute to their safety.
Inappropriate Exchanges or Sexting = Sex + Texting
Inappropriate exchanges or sexting is where people exchange messages, images, or videos of a sexual nature through digital platforms. It is a form of communication that can occur between friends, partners, and people they have met online. It refers explicitly to self-generated content and usually involves sexually explicit messages consisting of naked pictures, underwear pictures, and erotic messages.
They think it’s normal, as “everyone else is doing it.” It is estimated that 15% of teens have engaged in inappropriate exchanges and 25% have received inappropriate content.
They have a girlfriend/boyfriend and engage in inappropriate exchanges to enhance their relationship. They want to show the receiver how much they like them. Sending and receiving flirty and sexual messages can provide instant validation and affirmation.
They want to impress, get attention, and receive compliments. Sometimes inappropriate exchanges are used as a way to prove maturity.
Young people tend to be naturally curious about sex. It might be also easier for them to explore their sexuality online rather than face-to-face.
Peers, partners, or groomers might be pressuring a young person to engage in inappropriate exchanges. This is not only relevant for sending content, but also for receiving them. Research has shown that girls are more likely to feel pressured to take explicit images of themselves, while boys might be peer pressured into obtaining nudes from girls.
Intimate content is usually sent to trusted people. But under some circumstances the receiver might show the sexts to friends, share it on social media, or even upload images to adult sites. When intimate pictures become public, it can have severe emotional and reputational consequences for a young person.
Once the receiver receives a sext, they might expect more, making the other person feel guilty if they want to stop. The person who gets a hold of the images might also blackmail the sender, making threats to leak the content if their conditions are not fulfilled.
Taking, possessing, and sharing explicit images of a person under the age of 18 is illegal. Even if the child gives their consent. Even if the receiver is a child themselves.
Every child is different, so the approach to talk to your child about inappropriate exchanges should be adapted to your child’s character and maturity. If you have weekly one-on-one chats with your child, and regularly talk to them about their online world, it will be easier for you to approach and discuss a rather awkward topic such as this one.
Be supportive: Reassure your child that it’s not their fault that the content was shared.
Delete the content: Encourage your child to ask the receivers to delete it. Help them remove it from social media or other websites.
Get help: You and your child might feel distressed by the situation. Remind them that they can talk to another trusted adult, or they can reach out to Kids Helpline. The Kids Helpline website also provides further guidance on inappropriate exchanges and online dating, and the Youth Law Australia outlines the details in Australian sexting law. Additionally, the school should have set policies on how to deal with such incidents and be able to provide support. For official report and help in getting the content removed, reach out to the eSafety Commissioner.
If you're worried about a child, even if you're unsure, contact the Parentline to speak to one of their counselors.
<a href=https://safetonet.com/features/The SafeToNet Mobile App is there to help your child navigate the difficult interactions that might arise when exploring the online world. Its Intelligent Keyboard acts as a real-time safeguarding assistant that helps educate your child on how to become a safer and kinder digital citizen.