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Sexting and the impacts on young people

Talking about sexting can feel uncomfortable for many parents. Learn more about what sexting means, its impact on your kids and how you can talk to them about it.

Teen girl sitting on couch looking at her phone with a worried face, Mum next to her

Understanding sexting and the risks

As a parent, you might feel left in the dark about sexting and the consequences that it can have for your teen.

Here's some facts about sexting:

  • Sexting is using the internet or a mobile phone for creating, sharing, sending or posting sexually explicit messages or images
  • Sexting is becoming more common and sending, receiving or distributing a naked or semi-naked photo is the most common form of sexting
  • Sexting is illegal when it involves anyone under 18 or to harass people of any age
  • Young people can be charged and potentially registered as a sex offender if they create, receive or transmit a sexualised image or video of a person under 18
  • If your child sends a sexy image, they have no control over where it might end up
  • Victims of sexting may experience serious psychological harm and ongoing damage to their reputation

Sexting is becoming a really common issue for parents of teens but there are ways you can help minimise the risks.

Why do young people sext

With increasing time spent on phones and technology, there are some risks.  What could motivate your child to sext?

Increasing use of technology paired with normal teen risk taking behaviour and interest in sexual experimentation

Young peoples’ understanding of the consequences is low or they may think they’re the exception and nothing bad will happen to them

It's easier to let your guard down on the phone or internet than it might be in person

What is seen as acceptable today may have changed from previous generations

There are some warning signs that things might not be ok with your child

You might notice any of the following:

Avoiding friends and social situations
Resistance or lack of interest in going to school, sport or other activities
Changes in sleep (sleeping lots more or lots less)
Increased level of anxiety (nail bitting, hair pulling, crying or self-harm)

Report Image Based Abuse

Your child is not alone when it comes to dealing with sexting! You can make a complaint to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner.

How to protect your child from the risks of sexting

Sexting can have serious social and legal consequences. You might be worried and unsure what you can do. There are ways to support them to stay safe.

  • Tell them that sexting is illegal and images can be difficult to remove once posted
  • Give them clear expectations about how they use their mobile phones
  • Advise them to report ‘strange’ behaviour online just like they would offline
  • Don’t minimise sexting as a “prank”
  • Have open discussions about who they talk to online
  • Talk through their experience or what they've heard about sexting
  • Try not to use labels like “promiscuous” when talking about sexting
  • It's important to remain calm and approachable and let them know you care
  • Reassure them that talking about sexting doesn’t mean they have to give up their phone/device

There’s help available

If you’re struggling with a parenting issue like this one, know that you're not alone.

Check out the eSafety website for more information on how to support your child and how to report sexting. You can also call Parentline in your State or Territory for more support and guidance on any parenting issue.

If you child needs support with a sexting issue, or for any other reason, encourage them to talk to a Kids Helpline counsellor. They can call us, start a WebChat or email us today.

This content was last reviewed 14/02/2018

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