sexting

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.

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Habits

of children aged 12 to 15 own a smartphone ¹

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Communication

children have received an unwanted image on the subject of sex ²

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Frequency

of reports to CEOP in 2012 were about the sharing of self-created indecent images ³

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.

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.

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.

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?’

Be prepared

Talk to your child about having some responses ready if they are asked to send explicit images. ChildLine has created a free app which has witty images to send in reply plus advice on how to stay safe.

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.

Report it

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.

Contact ChildLine

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.

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:

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Childline

The Childline website has lots of advice for children including how to stand up to peer pressure. This Sexting page has advice on how children can deal with sexting.

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NSPCC

The NSPCC’s website provides advice about how to talk to your child about sexting and provides lots of quotations from young people about the issue, to help parents and adults understand what young people think about sexting.

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UK Safer Internet Centre

This parents’ guide to dealing with sexting has lots of advice on what to do and how to handle it.

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CEOP

CEOP’s Thinkuknow education programme has produced a film about sexting, ‘Exposed’. You could use this to start a conversation about sexting with your child. There are also a video series on “Nude selfies: Understanding Why” available.

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Stop it Now!

Parents/carers can call the Stop it Now!helpline on 0808 1000 900 if they want to talk through any concerns they may have about a sexting incident.

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Parents Protect!

This website provides information around sexting, top tips for parents, and short films for parents to watch with their children.

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Let’s talk about online relationships

This guide will give you practical tips about how you can help your child to be in control and enjoy safe online relationships. It is created by Anti-bullying alliance and the Sex Education forum.

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So You Got Naked Online 

This resource from SWGfL offers children, young people and parents advice and strategies to support the issues resulting from sexting incidents.

  1. Ofcom Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report (Oct 2014) p.29, Figure 5
  2. Beat Bullying Virtual Violence report (2012)
  3. Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre (2013): Threat assessment of child sexual exploitation and abuse