Understanding and responding to sexting

The NSPCC has created the above video to help younger children think before they share and consider the implications of what they share.

What is sexting?

Now often referred to as ‘youth produced sexual imagery’, sexting is where someone shares nude, partially-nude or sexual images/videos of themselves or others. Sending explicit messages can also be classed as sexting. As well as being illegal (for under 18s), sexting can cause serious distress and can lead to various unwanted consequences.

Why sext?

There are many reasons young people sext. These may include:

  • Being put under pressure from a boyfriend/girlfriend
  • Being put under pressure from someone looking to exploit (grooming)
  • A desire to explore sexuality and feelings using technology
  • A wish to flirt
  • The belief that it’s normal behaviour

What young people need to understand

It’s crucial that young people understand the risks and dangers of sexting. Firstly, even if they believe that an image or video they shared with someone will stay private, there’s little stopping that person forwarding it to their friends or making it public. Stopping an image spreading online can be tricky and if young people understand this, and understand that once something is online it could be there forever, this will help them consider the potential consequences of their actions.

Young people also need to understand that being in possession of naked/semi-naked images of people under 18 is against the law. It’s even illegal for them to take an explicit picture or video of themselves.

As the youth of today face many pressures, it’s vital that they understand their rights and that they can say ‘no’ if they ever feel uncomfortable with a request. Although adults sext, young people shouldn’t perceive it as ‘normal’ behaviour.

Finding out that a young person has been sexting – advice for parents

CEOP has produced an excellent parents’ video series about dealing with sexting.

If you find out that a child has sexted:

  • Don’t get angry with them; instead, tell them that you want to help them and that they’re not alone
  • Ask them who they sent the pictures/videos to and whether they’ve been shared further
  • Work with them to delete the content to stop it spreading – this can usually be done by deleting the photos/videos directly or by reporting the content to the social network or site where it’s hosted. If the pictures/videos were shared with one or two people only, ask them to remove the content immediately.
  • Complete a CEOP Police report if they were forced, blackmailed or bullied into sending the pictures/videos. CEOP deal with issues involving child sexual exploitation.
  • Contact Childline if the pictures/videos are still being actively shared online. Childline works closely with the Internet Watch Foundation who have the ability to remove sexual content of children from many Internet services.
  • Contact the child’s school if the content has been shared by others within the school. It’s important that schools are aware of any sexting incidents that occur and they can offer support and further advice.

Finding out that a young person has been sexting – advice for schools

School practitioners can gain advice about dealing with sexting issues by reading Sexting in schools and colleges, produced by UKCCIS.

Prevention is better than cure

It’s important that young people are educated about healthy relationships, pressure and what they can do if they feel out of control. Education of this type leads to young people feeling more secure in making decisions about how to act and what is OK and what is not. Having open and honest conversations is the best answer, even though these conversations can be tricky.