The term ‘sexting’ is used to describe the sending and receiving of sexually explicit photos, messages and video clips, by text, email or posting them on social networking sites.
It’s increasingly done by young people who send images and messages to their friends, partners, or even strangers they meet online.
What do I need to know about sexting?
There are many reasons why a young person might get involved in sexting. Exploring sex and relationships is a natural part of adolescence. Young people often feel that they love and trust their partner and want to express their sexual feelings.
Sometimes they might be put under pressure to either take pictures of themselves or pass on those taken by others. They may want to please a demanding boyfriend or girlfriend, or do what they think everyone else is doing. Or they may have been talked into it by an adult or someone they’ve met online.
As children have no control over how and where images and messages might be shared online by other people, sexting can leave them vulnerable to bullying, humiliation and embarrassment, or even to blackmail.
These four videos from NCA-CEOP Command’s Thinkuknow education programme called ‘Nude Selfies – What Parents and Carers Need to Know’ are excellent for parents to learn about sexting and nude selfies.
What are the possible consequences of sexting?
Young people may see sexting as a harmless activity but taking, sharing or receiving an image can have a long-lasting impact on a child’s self-esteem.
It may cause emotional distress
The sharing of inappropriate content can lead to negative comments and bullying and can be very upsetting.
It could affect your child’s reputation
Explicit content can spread very quickly over the internet and affect your child’s reputation at school and in their community both now and in the future. It could also affect their education and employment prospects.
Sexting is illegal
When children engage in sexting they’re creating an indecent image of a person under the age of 18 which, even if they take it themselves, is against the law. Distributing an indecent image of a child – e.g. sending it via text – is also illegal. It’s very unlikely that a child would be prosecuted for a first offence, but the police might want to investigate.
Talk about sexting with your child
The time to talk about sexting with your child is as soon as they start using the internet or get a mobile phone.
Explain what can happen to an image
Remind your child that once an image has been sent, there’s no way of getting it back or knowing where it will end up. Ask them to think before they send a picture of themselves: ‘would I want my family, teachers or future employers to see it?’
Talk to your child about having some responses ready if they are asked to send explicit images. ChildLine has produced a free app which has witty images to send in reply plus advice on how to stay safe. Find out more here.
Tackle peer pressure
Show you understand how they may feel pushed into sending something even though they know it isn’t the right thing to do. Help them to understand that the results of giving in to pressure could be much worse than standing up to it.
What should I do if sexting affects my child?
Most young people don’t see sexting as a problem and are reluctant to talk to adults about it because they’re afraid of being judged or having their phones taken away. If your child has shared an explicit photo or video of themselves they may be very upset, especially if it’s been widely circulated. If you become aware of this, try to stay calm and reassure them that they have your support and you’ll help them by taking the following steps:
Explore the facts
Find out who the content was shared with initially, who it was passed on to, whether it was done maliciously or was a joke gone wrong.
Call the school
Your child’s school will be able to help you deal with the repercussions and support your child at school. If the image has been shared with other children in the school they should have a process for dealing with it and will be able to help stop the image being shared any further.
If you suspect the image has been shared with an adult, contact the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), who are the national policing lead for online child sexual exploitation.
Contact the website or provider
Social networking sites should remove an image if asked. If the image has been shared via a mobile phone, contact the provider who should be able to provide you with a new number.
If your child calls ChildLine and reports the image, ChildLine will work with an organisation called the Internet Watch Foundation to get all known copies of the image of your child removed from the internet. Learn more about this process here.
If you, your child or someone you know needs more information about sexting, these links offer advice and support both on how to minimise the risks and how to deal with it if it happens:
BBC Webwise: Sexting – What parents need to know
Understanding the impact of sexting on a child’s mind by Catherine Knibbs
Sexting: defusing the teenage timebomb by Carolyn Bunting
- Ofcom Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report (Oct 2014) p.29, Figure 5
- Beat Bullying Virtual Violence report (2012)
- Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre (2013): Threat assessment of child sexual exploitation and abuse