A parent's guide by NSPCC

Sexting, nude selfies, trading pics: there are lots of ways to describe sharing naked or sexual images, but when it comes to talking to children about it, parents can sometimes find themselves lost for the right words.

Talking with your child about self-generated naked images (or sexting) can seem daunting and awkward so it is no surprise the latest NSPCC research has found that only 2 in 5 parents have had a conversation about the issue.  Speaking to your child doesn’t need to be embarrassing though, and there are plenty of things parents can do to help keep children safe online. The NSPCC want to help equip parents with the facts about sexting, so they can start the conversation.


How big an issue is sexting?

If you’ve seen stories about sexting in the media, you can be forgiven for thinking that all young people are doing it. However, research recently conducted by the NSPCC with 1000 young people found that 10% have taken a topless picture of themselves and 3% a fully naked picture. Of those young people that have taken a picture, 50% shared it with someone else. And of the group who shared it 31% shared it with someone that they don’t know.

So although not everyone is sexting, children that are may be putting themselves into risky situations and losing control of their image. This could make them more vulnerable to bullying, harassment and exploitation from others. And even those children that aren’t taking part in sexting may be experiencing pressure to get involved.  In 2015-2016 ChildLine held 1392 counselling sessions about sexting, so we know that this is an issue young people are worried about.

Understanding the law on sexting

Laws relating to sexting were created before the internet so they can sometimes seem confusing. The important thing to remember though is that it is illegal to take, possess, or share indecent (sexual or naked) images or videos of children. This law applies to both adults and children; so if a child takes a naked picture of themselves they will be breaking the law. 

There has been a lot of concern that young people may be criminalised for taking naked pictures. To overcome this the Home Office have recently introduced new guidance and processes for police forces which will ensure that children are not criminalised when they have acted without criminal intent. 

What parents can do to help

It may feel awkward to talk about sexting but it's important that children understand the risks, how to stay safe and know they can talk to you if something ever makes them feel scared or uncomfortable. The NSPCC found that 50% of parents would like more support and information around sexting so we have come up with some tips to help you have the conversation. 

  • If you are struggling to bring up the topic of sexting, think about using examples of TV or news stories that you have both seen.
  • Talk to your child about what kind of pictures they feel are acceptable, and unacceptable to send to other people. Ask them if they would be happy for you or other children to see naked or sexual images of themselves. If the answer is 'no', explain that the image is probably not appropriate to send
  • Make sure your children are comfortable and confident saying no, that they know their body is private and that being asked to share naked images is inappropriate.
  • If you have teenagers, talk to them about the importance of trust and consent in a healthy relationship. Explain it is not ok  for someone to make them feel uncomfortable, to pressure them into doing things that they don’t want to do, or to show them things they are unhappy about.
  • Take a look at ChildLine’s advice about sexting together. Make sure they know about Zipit, ChildLine’s app which is designed to provide them with witty images to send if someone asks them for a sexual picture.  And let them know if they are ever feeling worried, and they don’t want to talk to you, they can always talk to a ChildLine counsellor. 

What to do if your child has been involved in a sexting incident

If you find out that your child has been taking or sharing naked or sexual images you may feel upset, worried, disappointed, or angry. Your child will also be feeling worried about telling you, so it is important you stay calm and reassure them you are there for them. There are also things you can do straight away to stop the image being shared further:

  • If your child has uploaded an image on social media accounts of themselves, encourage them to take it down.
  • If someone else has shared the image of your child, see whether your child feels comfortable asking the other person to delete it from their account. If this isn’t possible, you can contact the relevant social media provider and ask them to remove the image. For information on how to do this you can look at the NSPCC’s Net Aware tool  or contact our O2 and NSPCC Online Safety Helpline on 0808 800 5002
  • If the image is of or has been sent to a wider group of children that your child knows and goes to school with, speak to your child about contacting the school to discuss the situation.
  • If the image has been sent to people that your child does not know or if your child feels like they have lost control of the image, contact the Internet Watch Foundation, who should be able to remove it from the internet.
  • If the image was requested by an adult then you should contact the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP). It is illegal for an adult to communicate sexually with a child and CEOP will be able to help with this.

Your child is likely to feel upset about what has happened and may need support after. If your child agrees, you may want to contact their school so that they support them. They can talk to a ChildLine Counsellor or, if you think that they need further support, your GP may be able to help.

If you would like to find out more about sexting, take a look at the NSPCC’s new guide here.



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