As a parent, it’s natural to feel uneasy about your child sexting. 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 encourage sexting. Instead, we want to prompt regular conversations between you and your child that can foster mutual understanding and contribute to their safety.
Sexting = Sex + Texting
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 sent sexts and 25% have received them.
They have a girlfriend/boyfriend and use sexting 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, receive attention and compliments. Sometimes sexting is 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 sexting. This is not only relevant for sending sexts, 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 feel more 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 someone receives a sext, they might expect more, making the other person feel guilty if they want to stop. The receiver of the images might also blackmail the sender, making threats to leak the content if their demands are not met.
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 sexting should suit 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 sexting.
Be supportive: Reassure your child that it’s not their fault that the image was shared.
Delete the content: Encourage your child to ask the receivers to delete it. Help them to 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 Your Life Your Voice. The Your Life Your Voice website also provides further guidance on sexting and online dating, and Cyberbullying.org outlines state-by-state differences in sexting laws. Additionally, the school should have set policies on how to deal with such incidents and be able to provide support. You can also contact the Internet Watch Foundationto help you get the content removed. You can also contact the NCMEC CyberTipline to help you get the content removed.
If you're worried about a child, even if you're unsure, contact the Childhelp to speak to one of their counselors. Call or text 1-800-422-4453, or contact them via their online live chat.
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.