Sexting is sharing sexual material using a mobile phone or by posting online. It isn’t a simple issue, but it is serious, so you’ll need to step in. You can help your child understand the consequences of sexting so your child can make responsible choices.
What is sexting?
Sexting is using a mobile phone to create, send or store sexual photos or videos. Sexting also includes posting sexual content online.
Sexting is different from just looking at porn, because sexting usually involves sending or posting images of yourself or people you know. These images can be shared with lots of people very quickly.
Sexting isn’t a simple issue. Children and teenagers sometimes get involved in sexting because they feel social pressure, but sexting is also something they might consent to doing.
Learning about sexuality is a normal part of growing up. For some teenagers, sexting can be a way of doing this. If your child is involved in sexting, try not to make your child feel bad about being interested in sexuality and relationships.
Why sexting can be a serious issue for teenagers
Getting a suggestive text message can be uncomfortable and unpleasant if your child doesn’t want this kind of attention.
Sexting can also be humiliating and embarrassing. It can harm friendships and social networks. If people have seen sexual photos of your child, your child might feel uncomfortable about taking part in everyday activities such as going to school or playing sports.
Sexting can expose your child to bullying. And in some extreme cases, teenagers who are victims of bullying can develop mental health issues such as depression and anxiety or have suicidal thoughts.
If a sexual photo or video of your child is shared online, it could be posted to social media sites, or emailed to friends and then to people your child doesn’t even know. Once online, it’s virtually impossible to remove. But if it isn’t removed, it becomes part of your child’s digital footprint and can stay in the public domain forever.
Sexting and the law
Creating, sending and having sexually explicit images or video of people under 18 years is a criminal offence in every state and territory in Australia.
Sexting is covered by state and territory child pornography laws. If your child is involved in sexting and someone reports your child to the police, your child could be charged with distribution or possession of child pornography. This can happen even if your child has consented to creating, sending, receiving and/or storing the sexually explicit material.
Your child gets a sext: what to do
If your child gets a sexually explicit message or image, you can talk your child through how to respond:
- Your child should not forward the image to anyone, because this is a crime.
- If your child knows the sender, tell the sender not to send any more texts like that.
- Your child should ignore the messages if they keep coming, and block or unfriend the sender.
Sexual images of your child have been uploaded: what to do
The first thing is to stay calm and reassure your child that together you will deal with this.
To get the photo removed, contact the website, such as Facebook or YouTube, by going to the help and safety section and following the reporting links.
If you’re not sure how to get the image removed, or you think your child needs help with the emotional consequences of the experience, get professional help for your child. For free phone counselling, contact:
Avoiding sexting: how to help your child
To prevent your child from getting involved in sexting, it’s best to talk openly with your child about media use, relationships and sex, public profiles and the consequences of sexting.
If these topics don’t come up by themselves, you might need to raise them with your child. You could try introducing the topic of sexting little by little. For example, you could say, ‘Have you heard of sexting? What do you know about it?’
Or you could set aside some time each day to talk with your child, even if it isn’t about sex and sexting. Casual everyday conversations send the message that if your child does want to talk, you’re happy to listen.
Building trust with children aged over 12 years is more likely to have positive results than restricting mobile phone or internet use. Monitoring your child’s mobile phone can seem like you’re intruding or that you don’t trust her. But for younger children it’s a good idea to keep an eye on media use.
- Talk with your child about how images can get shared and go viral.
- Make sure your child knows the guidelines about offensive content on the social media sites he uses. Also check that he knows how to report offensive content.
- Talk to your child about being a good digital citizen and behaving respectfully online.
- Talk with your child about her friends – get to know them if possible.
- Take an interest in and encourage your child to talk about crushes or romantic relationships. Talk about what goes into positive relationships, including caring and respectful behaviour.
- Keep talking with your child about sexual health and sexuality. If your child has a good understanding of sex and its part in adult relationships, he’ll be better able to deal with sexting.
Your child’s public profile
If your child has a social media profile, she needs to think about the messages she’s sending about herself through her profile. Here are some talking points:
- What kind of public image do you want to have? How do you want people to think about you?
- What kind of photos and video of yourself are you happy for others to see and possibly copy, edit and upload onto different websites? Why?
- Would you be happy if those images ended up being seen by your school friends, teachers, boss, parents or grandparents?
Consequences and legal implications
You can use news stories or anecdotes to explore the short-term and long-term consequences of sexting with your child. Talking points might include the consequences of taking, sending or sharing sexually explicit images or video, what might happen to friendships and how your child can keep himself safe.