What is sexting?
Sexting is the sending and receiving of naked pictures or 'nudes', 'underwear shots', sexual or 'dirty pics' or rude text messages or videos. This can be via mobile phones, social networks, emails or social apps. Young people who do this don’t often realise the consequences of it and this can be a form of sexualised bullying too.
With the continued advances of technology, most mobile phones and tablets have built in cameras and most are linked up to email and social network accounts. Police have warned of the dangers sexting can have including loss of control and leaving young adults at the risk of being exploited by paedophiles and sexual predators.
Is sexting legal?
The law is quite clear on sexting and police and the criminal justice system are taking sexting more serious than ever in a bid to try and minimise young people exploiting themselves in this way.
It is illegal to take, possess or share 'indecent images’ of anyone under 18 even if you're the person in the picture. If you are under the age of 18, the law sees you as a child. Therefore, if you have any indecent images or videos of somebody who is under 18 you would technically be in possession of an indecent image of a child – even if you are the same age. This is an offence under the Protection of Children Act 1978 and the Criminal Justice Act 1988
Why would someone want to?
There are many reasons young people may engage in sexting, whether it is to show someone they care, do something they think the other person wants or perhaps a lack of insecurity may make them want to seek attention in possibly the wrong places. A young person may feel under pressure to send or receive an image because they are worried that they will be bullied if they don’t get involved.
Many young people felt under pressure to do this because their boyfriend or girlfriend said “if you loved me you would do this” reassuring them that no one else would see this picture. Unfortunately, quite often this has not been the case and results in extreme sexual bullying and severe consequences. Some people felt a need to gain attention and notoriety from the sexting which can often be a result of insecurity or a lack of confidence. For others it was a way of showing their partner that they cared about them, however it is important to reiterate to young people that there are other ways to show you care without having to resort to sexting.
What can I do if I think my teen is involved in sexting?
Your teen might not be the one sending sexual content to others through sexting, but they might be on the receiving end. Sometimes, images are sent round in group messages to everyone on a contact list so they may not have had any idea that they were going to be sent this. On the other hand they may have asked someone to send them this picture or felt under pressure to send an image of themselves.
It is important to open up the channels of communication and be able to discuss this openly so they are aware of the implications. Why not start by having a chat about sexting being featured on the news and see what their thoughts are on it? Make your teen aware of the fact that if they are sending any personal information/images across, that they are passing over control to whoever the recipient is. Once that message has been sent, there is no way of retrieving it. As a parent you might never really know whether you’re teen has been involved in sexting, but by being able to talk things through with your teen you will have made them aware of the dangers they could possibly face.
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre say that some of the material being circulated can find its way onto forums being used by child sex offenders. Young people have been blackmailed with their own pictures and paedophiles have also been found to pose as the person in the picture to trap other victims. Images most commonly being shared include boys exposing themselves or masturbating, girls that have removed items of clothing as well as sexual acts that could be considered as pornographic material.
Talking to your teen about sexting
Talk to your teen about relationships and let them know that respecting one another is important. They do not have to feel forced into doing anything they are not comfortable with and they can come and talk to you if they feel pressured. Encourage your child to report any incidents of sexual bullying whether they are involved or not.
Make it clear that any incidents of bullying are unacceptable no matter where they are and that it will not be tolerated. Do not dismiss sexist language or behaviour as funny. Remember that you need to a role model for them and they will look to you to determine what is right and what is wrong.
You might want to start a discussion with them exploring the consequences of sexting asking them if someone was to send a sexting image, what would they be consenting too? For example, the other person to see this picture and then you can ask them what would they not be consenting too? They may answer with other people seeing this picture. You can then ask how a person would stop this from happening. This is a great way to debate with your teen on the issues and consequences around sexting.
Consequences of sexting
There are many consequences of sexting and often when the image is originally sent it may be that the two people may have trust and set an agreement in place, however, this friendship or relationship may not always be harmonious and this is when images like these are not respected and can be posted as revenge or shown around carelessly to anyone else.
Once someone hits send, they have ultimately lost control of that picture and where it may end up. They might also forget about it and then it may resurface in the future, this has known to happen. Each action online leaves a digital footprint and everything anyone does online is out there in cyberspace even if you think something has been deleted.
Young people may not always realise how many people may see the online image, such as potential employers and universities. It is said that over 90% of employers google prospective applicants and there are widely publicised cases where a person has either lost a job or who has not been successful based on their online activities or inappropriate images.
Police have warned of the dangers sexting can have including loss of control and leaving young adults at the risk of being exploited by paedophiles and sexual predators. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre say that some of the material being circulated can find its way onto forums being used by child sex offenders. Young people have been blackmailed with their own pictures and paedophiles have also been found to pose as the person in the picture to trap other victims. Images most commonly being shared include boys exposing themselves or masturbating, girls that have removed items of clothing as well as sexual acts that could be considered as pornographic material. 70% of 11-18 year olds that were surveyed, were found to have known the sender of the sexually explicit message personally. 23% of messages were found to have come from a current partner, 45% from friends and 2% from adults.
Encouraging your teen to say no
It is important to speak your young person and get them to understand why it is empowering to actually say no if they were asked to send a sexting image. You could ask your teen what they feel would happen if they said no to sending a sexting image of themselves. What do they feel would be the consequences such as rumours spread that they are frigid, the person will finish with them, etc. and whether this would be more devastating than the consequences if they were to send the picture. You can ask your teen what other ways they can show they care without sexting. This will help them to think of the bigger picture, their future and how to protect themselves.
You can learn more about sexting, and how to raise the subject with your teen at Internet Matters. It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at email@example.com or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker.
This page was updated on October 2021