Sexting "trading nudes, dirties, pic for pic" is a sensitive and possibly awkward topic to broach with your children. That only makes it a more important subject to be open about and discuss. If your child thinks that you "get it", they will be more likely to speak to you if they become nervous about something they encounter on their device.
What is sexting?
Sexting is when someone "shares sexual, naked or semi-naked images or videos of themselves or others, or sends sexually explicit messages". Sexting isn't just limited to mobile phones. Any device that is capable of sending and receiving media or messages can be used to sext.
Key areas to discuss with your children should include the risks of sexting, how to stay safe, and who they can talk to if they feel scared or worried.
Sexting: the big risks
Once an image/video/message has been sent the sender loses control of who shares it and where it goes. Even if you use an app like Snapchat where an image/video only lasts a few seconds, they can be saved and passed on by others.
There is no such thing as private sharing - an image/video could end up being viewed by total strangers, or people who were not meant to view it in the first place.
Blackmail, bullying and harm
- Blackmail: "send me money or more pictures or I'll tell your mum or share the picture"
- Bullying: could happen if an image gets shared in school
- Emotional distress: in extreme cases, a child could become suicidal through embarrassed thoughts
- Unwanted attention: this could be attention from sex offenders that you're not even aware of
It is illegal to create or share explicit images of a child, even if the child is doing it.
This means that your child may break the law if they:
- Video or photo themselves in an explicit manner
- Video or photo a friend in an explicit manner
- Share an explicit image or video of a child that they have received
- Share an explicit image or video between children of the same age
- Have in their possession, download or storage an explicit image or video of a child (even if the child in the photo/video gave their permission)
The police may be lenient if a young person creates or shares these images. Instead of any formal action being taken, a record of the crime committed may be made. (This is as of January 2016 in England & Wales). When a crime is recorded in this manner, it may not necessarily appear on future checks (Enhanced DBS, etc). If, however, the young person committing the crime continues to be involved in similar activities, they may be indicated as at risk or a risk.
It's hard to understand why a young person may sext. Here's a few reasons why it may happen:
- Peer pressure - it might seem like everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn't they?
it's hard to say no if someone asks persistently
- Self esteem - they may receive positive comments in return
- Sexual feelings - it's a way for them to explore
- Attention - a lot of young people crave attention, so they feel like they need to do more than the next person to get said attention
- Social media connections - people often exchange a like or a follow for a 'pic'
- They think it's safe
- They're not fully aware of the risks
Unfortunately, with the readily available nature of devices and technology, being able to sext is more possible than ever. TV and other media outlets have been doing a lot recently to raise awareness of the issues regarding sexting in the hope that this will educate young people.
What you can do
We highly recommend heading over to the NSPCC website and reading their information point regarding sexting. The page covers a number of topics including advice on what to do if you discover your child has been sending or receiving sexually explicit messages/images, how to talk to your child about sexting, how to get images removed, and where else your child may go to for help.
We've highlighted some key points from their website below:
Talking to your child about sexting
- Have a conversation unique to your child. This may cover safe and trusting relationships, that it's ok to say no, what they believe is acceptable, your expectations/the law and that it's OK to talk to you about it.
- Talk about the risks - think of control, maybe consider real-life stories [there's an EastEnders' sexting storylines that may be useful here - Jay (became a convicted sex offender after his underage girlfriend sent him a nude - external link to Digital Spy)].
- Be clear that you're understanding and supportive, and you will help them or point them in the right direction.
They have some sexting advice for children
What to do if your child has been sexting...
Initially, you might find it quite shocking to learn that your child has been sexting. Take a moment to process the information so that you can respond in a calm way - don't forget that your child will be feeling incredibly anxious and scared about what is going on.
Let them know that you're there to help...remind them that you want to listen to and support them.
If you don't feel comfortable talking to them about it, or aren't sure that you can provide them with the best help - you or they can always contact Childline or another responsible and trusted adult.
You may learn that your child has shared an explicit image or video, that they have lost control of said image, or have received a sexual image themselves. If that's the case, the NSPCC website offers some essential help on how to manage those situations, including who to contact to remove the images.