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More and more children and teens are engaging in or being affected by sexting. With more
young people having access to phones and social media accounts, it is becoming easier for
them to send and receive explicit messages and images.
There has been a rise in the number of sexting cases among young people being reported in
recent years, with schools and local authorities taking steps to attempt to combat the issue.
However, it is also important to address the issue of sexting with your children at home.
What is sexting?
Sexting is when someone shares sexual, naked or semi-naked images or videos of themselves or others, or sends sexually explicit messages.
They can be sent using mobiles, tablets, smartphones, laptops - any device that allows you to share media and messages.
Sexting may also be called:
- trading nudes
- pic for pic.
What are the risks of sexting?
- No control of images and how they're shared
- It's easy to send a photo or message but the sender has no control about how it's passed on.
- When images are stored or shared online they become public. Some people may think that images and videos only last a few seconds on social media and then they're deleted, but they can still be saved or copied by others. This means that photos or videos which a young person may have shared privately could still be end up being shared between adults they don't know.
Young people may think 'sexting' is harmless but it can leave them vulnerable to:
An offender may threaten to share the pictures with the child's family and friends unless the child sends money or more images.
If images are shared with their peers or in school, the child may be bullied.
- Unwanted attention
Images posted online can attract the attention of sex offenders, who know how to search for, collect and modify images.
- Emotional distress
Children can feel embarrassed and humiliated. If they're very distressed this could lead to suicide or self-harm.
Why do young people sext?
There are many reasons why a young person may want to send a naked or semi-naked picture, video or message to someone else:
- joining in because they think that ‘everyone is doing it’
- boosting their self-esteem
- flirting with others and testing their sexual identity
- exploring their sexual feelings
- to get attention and connect with new people on social media
- they may find it difficult to say no if somebody asks them for an explicit image, especially if the person asking is persistent
Sexting is illegal among children
Sexting can be seen as harmless, but creating or sharing explicit images of a child is illegal, even if the person doing it is a child. A young person is breaking the law if they:
- take an explicit photo or video of themselves or a friend
- share an explicit image or video of a child, even if it’s shared between children of the same age
- possess, download or store an explicit image or video of a child, even if the child gave their permission for it to be created.
Images covered under the law include, but are not limited to, naked pictures, topless photos of girls, any sex acts and sexual images in underwear. If it is found that a child under the age of 18 is in possession of any of these, has been sending them or taking these types of photos, the police can record it as a crime.
What can parents do to safeguard children?
One of the most effective ways you can safeguard your children against sexting is to talk to
them about it. Ensuring they understand what it is, how it is dangerous and what the results of
engaging in sexting are, could enable them to make the right choices.
This will also make sure they know what to do if they are sent any unwanted images or messages,
which can be distressing, especially for younger children. If they know they have your support, they are more likely to come to you with issues and questions.
It is also important to set rules for them regarding the use of their electronic devices and social media. Ensure they know what they can and cannot do with their devices and what they shouldn’t post online, such as their address.
You may want to install parental control apps and programmes onto their devices too, which will
block certain activity and/or allow you to monitor their behaviour. Doing checks on their messages and online activity can also help you safeguard children, especially if they are quite young. It can also be a good idea to check what parental controls your broadband provider offers, as they could help you further safeguard your children.
While it can be tempting to just put a blanket ban on social media accounts, this can mean that they just set them up without your knowledge and so will not understand how to keep them secure and the correct ways to use them. It is much better to set their profiles up with them when you think they are ready, take them through all the features and ensure you have access to them.
If you do find that your child has been sexting, it is possible to get the images removed by contacting the Internet Watch Foundation, which will search for any explicit photos or videos of your child in order to protect them from possible ramifications.