Sexting is using digital technology to send, receive or share sexually suggestive images or videos of people naked or partially naked. It can also include sexual messages or emojis.
People use text messages, emails, online games, apps or social media for sexting.
Young people might call it sexting, or they might use terms like ‘nudes’, ‘noods’, ‘dick pics’ or ‘sexy pics’.
Children under 11 years are less likely to send, receive or share sexts than teenagers. They can feel upset if they’re sent a sexual image they don’t want. And they can also feel worried, confused or upset if they feel pressured to sext.
Early conversations about sexting: why they’re important and when to start
There are many good reasons to have early conversations with your child about sexting.
These conversations can help your child to:
- understand what sexting is
- understand what appropriate and inappropriate images are
- avoid sharing inappropriate images of themselves or others
- know what to do if they get sent inappropriate images.
If you’re wondering how early to start talking about sexting, you could think about:
- how mature your child is
- whether you think your child is ready
- whether your child uses messaging apps or other digital technology
- how much your child uses messaging apps and other digital technology.
If your child has received a nude picture, be supportive and reassure them that together you’ll deal with what’s happened. Our practical steps for sexting problems can guide you through this situation.
How to start conversations about sexting
For tricky topics like sexting, it’s best to have small conversations when opportunities come up.
For example, your child might ask you what a ‘nude’ is because they’ve heard someone use this word at school. Or you could start a conversation by talking about something you and your child have seen or heard in a book, news story, social media post, music video, TV show, movie and so on.
You might also be able to talk about sexting when you and your child are having conversations about sex, sexual behaviour and internet safety.
When you’re talking, let the situation and your child’s questions guide what you talk about. If your child doesn’t want to talk about nude pictures or says they know it all already, it’s OK to say you’d like to have a quick chat anyway.
It’s a good idea to check whether your child’s school teaches these topics. When you know what your child is learning at school, you can follow up at home.
In early conversations about sexting, it’s a good idea to find out what your child already knows about sexting or nudes. You could ask, ‘Have you heard anything about nudes? Tell me what you think they are’.
If you need to explain what sexting is, here’s a way of explaining it: ‘Sexting is when someone sends, receives or shares a photo of someone without clothes on’.
You could follow this up by asking more questions. For example:
- Does anyone at school talk about sending nudes or taking photos of their bodies?
- Do you know anyone who has sent or received a nude picture?
- Have you ever sent or received a nude picture?
- Do you have any questions about things you’ve heard?
If your child has questions about sexting, try to answer them as honestly, openly and non-judgmentally as you can.
Tell your child that they can speak to you anytime if they get an image that bothers them or if they’re worried about an image they’ve sent. Let your child know you won’t be angry or take away their phone or other technology.
Sharing images: what your child needs to know
Sexting involves sharing sexual images or videos. So it’s good to talk about sharing images in general.
You could talk with your child about what images you think are OK for your child to share. For example, you might say, ‘I think it’s OK for you to share photos of our dog or the cakes you made. I don’t want you to share any pictures of yourself without checking first’.
It’s good to get your child’s perspective on sharing images, so ask your child what pictures they think are OK to share. You could ask whether your child would be happy for you, a teacher or their grandparent to see those pictures. If the answer is no, explain that it’s probably not appropriate to share them.
Your child also needs to know that pictures they send to other people can easily get seen by more people. You could say, ‘Once you send a photo to someone you lose control of it. That person could send it to other people or put it on a website where anyone could see it’.
Let your child know they shouldn’t share images of people without their clothes on, or of people kissing or touching each other.
If your child wants to share pictures or videos of their friends, make sure your child knows to ask for their friends’ permission first. You can be a role model for this by asking your child for permission every time before posting pictures of them on social media or online.
Behaving respectfully online: things for your child to think about
Respectful behaviour involves thinking about other people’s feelings and not doing things that would upset them. This is important online as well as offline.
If your child agrees that it’s not respectful to gossip, spread rumours, bully or hurt someone’s feelings online, your child might also agree that sharing sexually suggestive images isn’t respectful.
One way to get your child thinking about respect is to encourage your child to think about the people in any photos or videos they want to share. Your child could ask:
- Do I have the other person’s permission to send this?
- How will the other person feel if I post this?
- How would the other person feel if friends, parents or teachers saw the picture?
If you find it hard to talk with your child about topics like sexting, it might help to know this often gets easier the more you do it. And it might have a bonus too, if it helps your child feel able to talk with you about other difficult topics.