Learn about sexting

Get insight on the reasons why young people may get involved in sexting, what the law says and the impact it can have on their digital wellbeing.

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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.

Watch to see what you need to know about sexting to support your child
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“Sexting” is the sending and receiving of sexually explicit photos, messages, and videos, by text, email, or posting on social networking sites.

An increasing number of young people send sext or nudes to friends, partners or even strangers they’ve met online.

According to latest research Six out of 10 teenagers say they have been asked for sexual images or videos.

Young people may start sexting to express their sexual feelings in a relationship, as a joke with friends or, or due to social pressure.

It may be seen as harmless by teens, but it can have a long-lasting impact on their self-esteem.

Sexting can lead to children receiving negative comments though public humiliation, being victims of cyberbullying, or facing legal consequences.

Explicit content can spread very quickly and affect a child’s reputation both now and in the future. It could also affect their education and employment prospects.

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 is also illegal. It’s very unlikely that a child would be prosecuted for a first offence, but the police may want to investigate.

Sometimes children 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. They may have even 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.

Resource to learn about sexting

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

CEOP Nude Selfies films provide advice to protect children from risks associated with sharing nude and nearly nude images

Sexting: Facts and statistics

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How common is it?

The growth of sexting has remained low over the years but among children aged 15 and over it has risen year on year according to the 2017 Cybersurvey.

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Why do teens do it?

70% of teens said that pressure was one of the reasons why people sent nudes according to the Young people, sexting – attitudes and behaviours report.

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What apps are they using to sext?

WhatsApp and Snapchat are the most commonly used apps to engage in sextings by teens according to a recent study.

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. This short summary from the UKCCIS provides more information about sexting and how schools should respond to it.

Resource document

Prevalence of multiple forms of sexting behavior among youth –  report from JAMA Pediatrics.

Read report

FAQ: How do schools support children on sexting?

To support children on this issue schools follow a framework called Education for a Connected World which looks at health, wellbeing, and lifestyle and addresses things like sleep and the pressure that social media can put onto its users. This provides a guide for what children should be able to do and what they should know at different ages and stages.

As part of this schools talk to children about how to manage their screen time and give children strategies to help such as switching off push notifications when they are doing homework. They also highlight the new technologies that Android and Apple have in-built into their devices which keeps screen time management front of mind so are more aware of how much time they spend online and the impact.

FAQ: What is sextortion?

Sextortion is a type of blackmail where someone is forced to perform sexual acts online (typically on a web cam), send sexuallised pictures of themselves, provide money or other services in order to avoid images or videos of them being shared with their friends or family. The reasons why people do this is varied. It could be to get money out of the victim, or for sexual pleasure.

Video to share with your teen: Stop Sextortion – a video created by US organisation Thorn aimed at children to raise awareness of the issue

What are parents views on sexting?

Sexting and young people: the parent’s view– a piece of research from the NSPCC to explore parents knowledge of sexting revealed the following insights:

Sexting harm

73% of parents believe that sexting is always harmful.

Possible incidents

39% of parents are concerned that their child may become involved in sexting in the future.

Talking about sexting

42% of parents have spoken to their child about sexting at least once, but 19% do not intend to ever have a conversation about it.

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