Sexting: what you need to know

For most parents, the thought of their children sexting is enough for them to stick their fingers in their ears and pretend they are somewhere else but it’s increasingly becoming part and parcel of our digital world. We talk about what parents need to know.

Like it or not, sexting is here to stay. And if you have teens, there is a good chance they’ve either sent or received a sexually explicit text message. Here we talk about what you can do as an adult.

Sexting isn’t just for young people, of course, but it has become popular among teens in the past few years. One study found 84 per cent of sexually active year 10, 11 and 12 students have received a sext, and 72 per cent have sent one. (That’s around half of the general student population).

Many parents’ first response is to try to figure out how to protect their child from receiving – or, heaven forbid, sending – such messages. But we are living in a digital age, and it’s important to understand that today’s teens have grown up sending text messages and using the internet. And sexting has become part and parcel of the dating world.

When sexting goes wrong

Of course, sexting activities that start in a happy and flirtatious way can go awry, with far-reaching consequences. Your child may receive unwelcomed messages, or they may send a message that is then shared without their consent. Each of these can cause distress, and more serious social and emotional damage.

Both of these practices are forms of cyberbullying, and there are laws that have been made to protect people from this. And if sexting involves someone under the age of consent, it is considered child pornography, which can carry serious legal consequences. Laws vary from state to state, so search for your local state laws for more information.
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What you can do

  1. Educate your child on their rights and responsibilities when it comes to sexting.
  2. Have conversations on how to ‘stay classy’ when entrusted with other people’s vulnerable moments. Check out The Line for more information.
  3. Encourage your child to only share images of themselves when they are ready, and to ensure it is with someone they trust. The app Send This Instead is a helpful and humorous way to help deflect unwanted requests for sexts for young people that may feel uncomfortable just saying no.
  4. Be the one to take control if things look like they are getting out of hand, by talking to other parents, or the police if necessary. If your child is being harassed, you can apply for a protection order. If images are posted on Facebook, you can report it. And if your child is under 13, you can ask to have the image removed from Facebook immediately. If you are concerned that a crime may have been committed against your child, call the police as soon as possible.
Once images have been shared online, it can be difficult to erase them, but what you can do - and what specialist reputation managers do all the time - is to flood the internet with positive images and stories that will push any unwanted images or stories down the rankings of any search. 
The most important thing you can do for your child is to keep the lines of communication open, and to let your child know you’re on their side no matter what. 

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