How to talk to your child about the dangers of sexting
Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg,(MBBS, MMedSci, MRCPsych) Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Woodbourne, provides advice for parents who may be concerned that their child has been affected by sexting. You can download the information below in this handy PDF Parent’s Guide: How to talk to your child about the dangers of sexting.
What is sexting?
Sexting is when someone sends a sexually explicit photograph or video of themselves via their mobile phone or online. It can also refer to written messages. It has become common in recent years due to easy access to smartphones and camera phones with internet access. Adolescents are texting messages of a sexual nature taken in the privacy of their own homes and there is significant concern regarding the negative effects of this on their mental state.
Why is sexting so common amongst young people?
Teenagers often have unlimited text messaging plans on their own mobiles and it is now very easy to take a sexually explicit photo and send it on without the risk of adults seeing it. Many also believe their photos will self-destruct rapidly if sent using certain apps. They do not realize the permanency of their actions, (it is easy for people to save these images) and the potential repercussions.
Sexting is normalized amongst many adolescent peer groups; they do not realize they are violating UK law by sending or being in possession of sexually explicit photos of a minor. Young people are impulsive as their prefrontal cortex, which plays a significant role in impulse control, is not yet fully developed. They are struggling with managing a combination of fluctuating hormone levels, emotional and sexual feelings, and peer pressure, and they have not yet developed the maturity to manage these issues safely or wisely. Often, young people ‘sext’ hoping to start a relationship or to gain positive comments about their body image to aid their self-esteem. At times, they are pressurized into it by a friend or someone older.
What are the consequences of sexting?
There is a risk that their image will be made available to others. This leads to a high level of distress for a young person, and it can lead to them resorting to ‘coping’ in unhealthy ways such as self-harming, isolating themselves, and restricting their dietary intake. It can also lead to high levels of anxiety and the development, or exacerbation of, depressive symptoms. Young people are often worried about the consequences of their actions too late in the day and will hide what they have done while dwelling on it, not sleeping because of it, and not concentrating in class.
If adolescents do not get the response they wished for from sending the image or video, this can have a negative impact on their self-esteem and body image. They may also experience bullying that further knocks their self-esteem. Young people who engage in sexting are also more likely to engage in other risky sexual activities which again, can have a negative impact on their mental state. Some young people are coerced into sexting, or blackmailed into more sexting, and this can lead to trauma. Images that young people have sent could reappear on websites years later, leading to yet another deterioration in that person’s mental state at that stage and interfere with their future prospects
Why should you discuss sexting with your child?
It is very important to explain to your child how to stay safe online, however difficult this conversation may feel. If they know the boundaries that you accept as parents, from the moment they first have a mobile phone, they are more likely to accept these rules. If they have the risks of sexting explained to them, it might help reduce their impulsivity and enable them to challenge peer pressure. If, as a parent, you let your child know you will be supportive and understanding if they ever do feel pressured to ‘sext’, they are more likely to discuss it with you when that pressure arises.
Tips on how to talk to your child about sexting:
- Select a time when your child is not in an emotional state but is calm and rational and not distracted by other activities
- Tackle the issue at a young age. Do not wait until they are in the midst of a group of friends who do ‘sext’
- Set out the rules of mobile or internet access when they are first given this in an unsupervised manner
- Make sure that your child knows what is not acceptable regarding sending photos and that their body is private and they should never be forced to share it with anyone
- Talk to them explicitly about how being asked to ‘sext’ is inappropriate and illegal for minors and how often young people are pressured into this
- Explain to them it is ok to stand out from the peer group and not follow the crowd
- Talk to your child about real-life examples where private images or videos have been shown to the world and the consequences of everyone seeing a photo that the person in it does not want others to see; for example, it can lead to bullying, have an impact on future career prospects, create the potential for blackmail and so on
- Reinforce to your child they can talk to you about any pressure they receive and you will be supportive and non-judgemental.
What should you do if you think your child is a victim of sexting?
- React calmly if your child tells you this is the case. Listen to them and offer support, validate how distressing it must be for them. Try not to place guilt on your child
- Find out details of who the image was sent to and keep evidence if you can
- If the image was shared on a website, contact that website to report it
- Consider changing your child’s phone number
- If your child was forced into sexting, contact your local Police force
- If your child shared their image willingly, talk to your child again about the dangers and consider discussing the issue with the parents of the receiving child
- If the image was sent to an adult, report this to the Police or the Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre
- Inform your child’s school so they can monitor the situation if it involved peers
- Offer your child support. Let them know of confidential helplines they can talk to such as Childline or the NSPCC. If you are concerned they are not coping see your GP to talk through your concerns and worries for your child. Your GP may refer them for expert treatment at Priory
Source: Priory Group
All About Sexting
Sexting — or using your phone to send sexual pictures, videos, or texts — might seem like no big deal. But before you hit send, there are some pretty big consequences to consider.
What is sexting?
Sexting means using your phone, computer, or camera to take or send sexy messages or images — usually selfies. You might think that sexting is just a harmless way to flirt or show your boyfriend or girlfriend that you’re into them. But sexts can outlast your crush or even your relationship. Once you click send, there’s no way to get your pictures and messages back. Maybe your ex or friend will delete them after the relationship ends or you have a fight, but what if they don’t?
Sexting can cause serious problems whether you send them or share them. The pics might get sent around or posted online, where people like your family, teachers, and friends could see them. Sharing these pictures or messages without permission is a serious violation of privacy and isn’t ok. And if the pictures you send or share are of someone under 18 (even if that’s you), you could even be arrested for child pornography, which is a serious crime.
What should I do if someone asks me to sext them?
Does your boyfriend or girlfriend ask for or send you naked pictures? You have the right to say no to any form of sexual behavior, including sexting. You always deserve to feel safe and respected in your relationship.
Here are some questions to ask yourself before you sext:
- Is it legal? Sending, owning, or taking naked or sexual pictures of someone under 18 (called a minor) is generally illegal, even if you both said it was ok. Never send, store, or forward a naked picture of a minor. In some places, this includes having or sending pictures of yourself if you’re under 18.
- Is it what you want? If someone is pressuring you to send sext messages when you don’t want to, or if they threaten to share your private photos or texts, they’re not respecting you or your boundaries which is a sign of an unhealthy relationship. So don’t send photos just because someone else really wants you to.
- Will it get shared? This is the hardest question to answer because you often just don’t know. When you like or trust someone enough to send them a sext, you might never imagine that they’d show your private messages to others. But sometimes people do mean things you’d never expect, especially after a fight or a breakup. They may share your sexts as a way to get back at you. Even if they don’t share a private picture of you on purpose, their phone can get looked through by a friend, lost, stolen, or hacked and your pictures can be shared without your knowledge or consent.
Sexting someone you love or care about can seem fun and exciting, but there’s a lot that can go wrong. There are a number of ways sexts can get into the wrong hands on purpose or by accident and cause some damage. So think twice before sending anything to anyone that you wouldn’t want the whole world to see.
How can I keep my pictures and messages private?
Honestly — you just can’t guarantee that. You might think you’re only sharing things with certain people, but anyone can save and send pictures and texts to others (even with Snapchat or other hidden photo apps). Once it’s out there, you have no control over who can see your picture and no way of getting it back. Even if you delete it from your phone, page, or profile, other people can save or copy the image and spread it around.
Someone sent me a sext or a naked pic. What should I do?
If someone you’re dating or in a relationship with sends you a sext or naked picture:
- Don’t send or show it to anybody. Sharing naked pictures is abusive and a major violation of trust. It can also be a crime to store or share sexual photos of someone under 18, even if you’re also under 18.
- Talk to them about why sexting might not be a good idea. There are lots of other ways they can flirt or let you know how they feel.
- Delete the sext as soon as possible. If your phone is lost, stolen, or borrowed someone might see it and share it with others.
If a friend sends you someone else’s sext:
- Tell the person who sent it to you that it’s not cool, and that they need to stop immediately.
- Talk to an adult you trust if you think someone’s being bullied or harassed.
- Don’t show anybody else (except an adult you trust) — it may be a crime to have photos of underage people, or share sexual pics without someone’s consent.
- Delete the picture or sext.
If someone you don’t know or who makes you uncomfortable sends you a sext or naked picture:
- Tell your parents or another adult you trust right away.
- Don’t delete the photo or text until you show your parents/another adult you trust.
- Don’t show anybody else except for your parents/another adult you trust.
Remember, it’s NEVER okay to share or post someone else’s private photos or texts, even if you’re in a fight or don’t like them. This is a cruel form of bullying and sexual harassment, and it can really hurt people.
Source: Planned Parenthood
Teens and Sexting: What Is It and What Can Parents Do?
What is “Sexting”?
Most teens today are comfortable with documenting their lives online. Posting photos, updating their status messages, sharing rapid-fire texts, and being a click away from friends are the new normal for teens. But this “always on” culture also creates an environment where teens can make impulsive decisions that can come back to haunt them. One example of this has been in the news a lot lately: sexting.
When people take and send sexually revealing pictures of themselves or send sexually explicit messages via text message, it’s called “sexting.” While experts differ on statistics, sexting is a teen reality that’s here to stay. Kids “sext” to show off, to entice someone, to show interest in someone, or to prove commitment.
22% of teen girls and 20% of teen boys have sent nude or seminude photos of themselves over the Internet or their phones.
– – – – – – – –
22% of teens admit that technology makes them personally more forward and aggressive.
– – – – – – – –
38% of teens say exchanging sexy content makes dating or hooking up with others more likely.
– – – – – – – –
29% of teens believe those exchanging sexy content are “expected” to date or hook up.
(All of the above are from CosmoGirl and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2009.)
Sending these pictures or messages is problematic enough, but the real challenge comes when this content is shared broadly. As far too many teens have found out, the recipient of these messages is in possession of a highly compromising image or message that can be easily posted on a social networking site or sent to others via email or text.
Why Sexting Matters
In a technology world where anything can be copied, sent, posted, and seen by huge audiences, there’s no such thing as being able to control information. The intention doesn’t matter – even if a photo was taken and sent as a token of love, for example, the technology makes it possible for everyone to see your child’s most intimate self. In the hands of teens, when revealing photos are made public, the subject almost always ends up feeling humiliated. Furthermore, sending sexual images to minors is against the law, and some states have begun prosecuting kids for child pornography or felony obscenity.
There have been some high-profile cases of sexting. In July 2008, Cincinnati teen Jesse Logan committed suicide after a nude photo she’d sent to a boyfriend was circulated widely around her high school, resulting in harassment from her classmates.
Fortunately, networks with large teen audiences – MTV, for example – are using their platforms to warn teens against the dangers of sexting. And the web site ThatsNotCool.com uses teen-speak to help resist cyber peer pressure. Hopefully, these messages will get through.
Advice for parents
- Don’t wait for an incident to happen to your child or your child’s friend before you talk about the consequences of sexting. Sure, talking about sex or dating with teens can be uncomfortable, but it’s better to have the talk before something happens.
- Remind your kids that once an image is sent, it can never be retrieved – and they will lose control of it. Ask teens how they would feel if their teachers, parents, or the entire school saw the picture because that happens all the time.
- Talk about pressures to send revealing photos. Let teens know that you understand how they can be pushed or dared into sending something. Tell them that no matter how big the social pressure is, the potential social humiliation can be hundreds of times worse.
- Teach your children that the buck stops with them. If someone sends them a photo, they should delete it immediately. It’s better to be part of the solution than the problem. Besides, if they do send it on, they’re distributing pornography – and that’s against the law.
- Check out ThatsNotCool.com. It’s a fabulous site that gives kids the language and support to take texting and cell phone power back into their own hands. It’s also a great resource for parents who are uncomfortable dealing directly with this issue.
More Advice on What To Do
So what are you supposed to do, whether you think your teen is sexting already or whether you’re worried they might start in the future? Believe it or not, you’re not completely powerless. So what can you do?
- Talk to your teen. A scary thought for many of us, but one of those unavoidable responsibilities of parenting. Talk to them about the possible long-term consequences of getting involved in sexting. Like the fact that nude images of kids under age 18 are child pornography, which is illegal. Talk about the short-term consequences, like the whole school getting ahold of a “private” photo shared with a former boyfriend or girlfriend. Talk about self-esteem and self-respect.
- Set rules. Do you let your kids drive drunk? Do you let them ride in the car with no seat belts? So why give them something as dangerous as a cell phone and not establish rules? Start random checks of the phone (yes, you’ll need to learn how to use it), and go through everything on it regularly.
- Take away the cell phone. Drastic, yes, but sometimes necessary when nothing else is working. If you truly don’t trust your child, why would you trust them with a tool they can use to bully others? And to those who argue that their kids “need” cell phones – oh, come on now. Really? Fine. Then get them the most basic model possible, with no texting capabilities.