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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 sexting sending a 'nude' or a 'sexy selfie' or 'rude' picture.
Children under 11 years are less likely to send sexts than teenagers are. They can feel upset if they get a sext they don't want. And they can also feel worried, confused or upset by pressure to sext.
Early conversations about sexting: why they're important
There are lots of good reasons to have early conversations with your child about sexting.
These conversations can help your child understand what sexting is. They can help to prevent him from sharing inappropriate images of himself or others. And they ensure that he recognises inappropriate images and knows what to do if he gets sent an image he's worried about.
You might feel embarrassed talking with your child about sexting. That's normal. But talking about sexting can be part of talking with your child about sex and sexuality, as well as talking with her about internet safety.
You might feel uncertain about when to start talking with your child about sexting. It depends on how mature your child is, whether you think he's ready and whether he uses texting apps.
If your child has received a nude picture, be supportive and reassure her that together you'll deal with what's happened. Our practical steps for sexting problems can guide you through this situation.
How to start a conversation about sexting
'Big talks' about things like sexting can be tricky.
It's often easier to have small conversations when opportunities come up. For example, your child might ask you what a nudie is, because he's heard someone use this word at school.
Let the situation and your child's questions guide what you talk about.
If your child doesn't want to talk about rude pictures or says she knows it all already, you could say you'd like to have a quick chat anyway.
In early conversations about sexting, it's a good idea to find out what your child already knows about sexting or sending nudes. You could ask, 'Have you heard of sending nudes? Tell me what you think it is'.
If you need to explain what sexting is, you could say something like, 'Sexting is taking a photo of yourself or someone else without clothes on, and then sending the photo to a friend or sharing it on Instagram or Snapchat or another social media app'.
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 and openly as you can. Tell your child that he can speak to you any time if he gets an image that bothers him, or if he's worried about an image he has sent. Let your child know you won't be angry.
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 her to share. For example, you might say, 'I think it's OK for you to share photos of our dog, or pictures of the cakes you made, but 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 he thinks are OK to share. You could ask whether he'd be happy for you, his teacher or his grandparents to see those pictures. If the answer is no, explain that it's probably not appropriate for him to share them.
Your child needs to know what can go wrong when you're sharing images. You can explain that pictures she sends to other people can easily get seen by more people. For example, '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'.
Sharing sexual images
Let your child know he shouldn't share images of people without their clothes on, or of people kissing or touching each other.
The UK National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has some helpful videos on its Share Aware website. 'I saw your willy' can help your child understand the risks of sharing sexual images.
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, she might also agree that sharing sexual images isn't respectful.
One way to get your child thinking about respect is to encourage him to think about the people in any photos or videos that he wants to share. Your child could ask himself:
- 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?
Once you've started talking about sexting with your child, you might find it gets easier the more you do it. And it might have a bonus too, if it helps your child feel able to talk to you about other difficult topics.