By Raising Children Network
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Teen viewing mobile device

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There’s no significant difference between boys and girls in the rates of getting or sending sexual messages.

 
Sexting is making and sharing sexual material using a mobile phone or by posting material online. Sexting isn’t a simple issue, but you can help your child understand the consequences so he can make responsible choices.

What is sexting?

Sexting is making sexually suggestive images and sharing these images using mobile phones or by posting them on the internet and social media. The images might be photographs of yourself or someone else naked or partially naked.

Young people might call it sexting, and they might also use terms like sending a ‘nude’ or a ‘sexy selfie’.

What teenagers wish their parents knew about sexting

You might think that sexting is something risky and dangerous that your teenage child has been pressured into doing. Although there are risks and teenagers can be pressured into sexting or swayed by peer influence, it isn’t as simple as this.

For teenagers, sexting is often fun and consensual. Your child and her friends might also see sexting as part of building relationships and self-confidence, and exploring sexuality, bodies and identities. 

Young people do worry about their images being shared with other people including friends and family members. Many try to reduce this risk by making images only for people they trust, and with whom they have or hope to have a romantic or intimate relationship. But some teenagers do send sexual images to people they’ve never met.

Talking with teenagers about sexting: why it’s important

Young people want to be able to talk openly and honestly with their parents about sexting. And talking with your child about sexting is one of the best ways to protect him from the risks of sexting.

If you and your child can have open and honest conversations about sexting or sending nudes, it gives you the chance to understand what sexting means to teenagers. And it means you can help your child if she gets an image that bothers her, or if she’s worried about an image she has sent.

You can help your child feel comfortable about talking to you by telling him you won’t be angry if he finds himself in a difficult situation because of sending a nude.

How to talk about sexting

You might feel embarrassed talking with your child about sexting, but it can just be part of talking about sexuality.

Here are some questions that can get a conversation going:

  • Do you know people at school who’ve sent or received a nude or a sexy selfie?
  • Do they do it for fun or to flirt?
  • Did they want to send the photo, or did someone persuade them to?
  • Do you ever send nudes or sexy photos?
  • Do you have any questions about things you’ve heard?

If your child has questions about sexting, try to answer them as honestly and openly as you can. If you have concerns about the risks of sexting, you could explain your concerns and why you’d prefer your child didn’t send sexts.

Once you’ve started talking about sexting with your child, you might find talking gets easier the more you do it. Here are some things you could talk about.

Risks of sexting
Your child needs to know that sexting or sending nudes has risks, like the risk of images being shared without consent. For example, you might say, ‘Once you send a photo to someone, you lose control of it. It could be shared with other people and on social media. People you don’t know could see it’.

You could also encourage your child to think about what could happen if she broke up or fell out with someone who had sexual images of her. For example, that person might share the sexual images. You could also explain that once images are on the internet they can be very difficult to remove.

It’s also important to talk with your child about the legal side of sexting.

Importance of respectful relationships
Telling your child not to send nudes or sexy selfies isn’t the best way to protect your child. Instead, it’s better to talk with your child about respectful relationships, sexual risks and trust.

You can explain to your child that sexting is a sexual activity. All sexual acts – including sexting – need consent from a partner. Breaching consent by sharing a sext isn’t respectful or OK. It’s also not OK to share other people’s sexts or to send a nude to someone who hasn’t asked for one.

For example, you might say, ‘You always need to check that the other person wants you to take a nude photo before you take it. It’s not OK to pressure someone into sending a nude, or to make them feel bad for refusing to send one’.

It’s important for your child to know that he has a right to say ‘no’. For example, ‘It’s not OK for someone to pressure you into doing anything sexual, including sending sexual photos of yourself’.

It’s also a good idea for your child to practise saying no. For example, she could use humour by saying ‘Yes, why not?’ and then send a picture of an animal or a stick person. Or she could just say, ‘No, I don’t send nudes because I don’t want to risk other people seeing them’.

Monitoring your child’s text messages isn’t a good idea because it’s a breach of privacy. It sends the message that it’s OK to violate someone’s privacy.

Your child gets a sext: what to do

If your child gets an unwanted sexually explicit message, talk through how to respond:

  • If the sender is your child’s friend, ask your child to delete the message and tell the friend not to send any more messages like that. Encourage your child to practise saying no in ways that feel comfortable.
  • Tell your child not to forward the message.
  • If your child doesn’t know the sender, ask your child not to respond and to block the sender.
  • Ask your child to tell you or another trusted adult if he keeps getting unwanted images.

If your child is getting sexts from someone she doesn’t know and you think the person is connected to your child’s school, contact the school.

If you think it’s a criminal matter, especially if an adult is contacting your child, you can make a complaint to the police. For example, it’s a crime if someone sends your child an unwanted naked picture.

Your child sends a sext: what to do

If your child has sent a sexually explicit message that he regrets, it’s important to support your child and reassure him that together you’ll deal with it:

  • Ask your child about the context of the message: did your child feel pressured to send the sext or was it consensual to start with? Also check on the content and who your child sent the sext to.
  • Advise your child to delete the sext from the phone, computer or wherever it’s stored.
  • Encourage your child to ask the person who received it to delete it.
  • If your child uploaded an image of herself to a social media site, encourage her to delete the image. Show your child how to delete the image, or how to contact the site to get the image deleted.

If you think it’s a criminal matter you can make a complaint to the police. For example, it’s a crime if an adult has asked your child to send a sexually explicit image.

Your child’s sext gets shared: what to do

It’s important to stay calm if a sexual image of your child has been shared. Images that are shared among peers are rarely uploaded to public websites.

Your child needs your support and reassurance that together you’ll deal with it:

  • Reassure your child that it’s not his fault that the image was shared.
  • Ask your child about the content of the sext and find out who it has been sent to.
  • Help your child ask the people who received the sext to delete it.
  • Speak to your child’s school for help identifying the people who might have the image and sites where the image might be posted. If the image has been uploaded to social media or other websites, help your child to find out where the image might be and contact the websites to ask for the image to be removed.
  • Encourage your child to block anyone who makes offensive comments or asks her for unwanted images. Show your child how to block unwanted senders.

If you think it’s a criminal matter you can make a complaint to the police. For example, it’s a crime if someone shares – or threatens to share – a naked or sexual picture without permission. If this is the case, ask your child not to delete the messages as the police will need to see them.

Your child shares someone else’s sext: what to do

If your child has shared a sexually explicit image of someone else, it’s important to support your child and reassure him that together you’ll deal with it:

  • Ask your child about the context of the sext: who sent the sext that she shared and why did she share it? Also check on the content of the sext and who your child sent it to.
  • Encourage your child to ask the person or people who received the sext to delete it. You can help your child do this.
  • If your child uploaded the image to social media or other websites, help your child to contact the websites to ask for the image to be removed.
  • If your child sent the sext to someone at school, speak to your child’s school to ask for help to make sure the image isn’t shared.
  • Help your child contact the person who sent the sext to tell them that it has been shared.

It’s also a good idea to encourage your child to ask himself these questions:

  • Did the person in this picture mean for it to be shared?
  • If someone else sent the image, did that person have permission from the person who’s in it?
  • How would I feel if somebody shared something like this with me in it?

It’s important for your child to know that sharing sexual images without a person’s consent is a type of sexual harassment or abuse and your child can get into legal trouble.

If you think it’s a criminal matter, you can make a complaint to the police. For example, it’s a crime if your child was forced into sharing one or more images, or if there’s an adult involved.

Why sexting can be a serious issue for teenagers

When sexual images are taken and shared without consent, sexting can become a serious issue.

If a sexual photo or video of your child is shared online, it could be posted to social media sites, or forwarded to friends and people your child doesn’t even know. These images can become part of your child’s digital footprint and stay in the public domain forever.

If people have seen sexual photos of your child, your child might feel guilty, ashamed and uncomfortable about doing ordinary things like going to school or playing sports. The situation can be humiliating and your child might feel that her reputation has been damaged. It can also harm friendships and social networks.

Sexting can expose your child to bullying or cyberbullying – for example, when people share images, they might also post nasty comments, attack your child’s reputation, call your child names, ask for more images or make other inappropriate demands.

Often girls get more of this kind of bullying and criticism than boys. This is because some people apply different standards to girls and boys.

This situation can also lead to mental health issues like depression or suicidal thoughts in extreme cases.

Sexting and the law

Current laws weren’t designed to deal with children and teenagers sharing sexual images with consent. Sexting is illegal in all Australian states and territories, except Victoria and Tasmania. In these states it’s legal if both people are under 18 and there’s no more than a two-year age gap.

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 could happen even if your child or a boyfriend, girlfriend or someone else taking part in the sexting has consented to it.

The police decide whether to charge and prosecute someone depending on the seriousness of the situation. If the sexting involves harassment or threats, the police are more likely to press charges – for example, if someone keeps bothering your child with requests for a naked picture, or keeps sending your child naked pictures that he doesn’t want.

Australian law
Under the Crimes Legislation Amendment Act (No.2) 2014, sexting involving a young person under 18 years can be seen as either child pornography or as an indecent act. If your child is involved, she could face jail and be listed on the sexual offenders register. 

State and territory laws
Lawstuff has details of the laws on sexting in each Australian state and territory.

 
 
 
  • Last updated or reviewed 09-12-2016
  • Acknowledgements This article was developed in collaboration with Dr Joanne Orlando, Senior Lecturer, Early Childhood Education, Western Sydney University, and consultant on children and technology at Switch: navigating the digital age.