“Once on the internet, always on the internet,” is an ideal warning to keep in mind when it comes to approaching the topic of sexting and social media with children and young adults. Sexting is on the rise and so are the dangers of sexting, so how can we educate our children to protect themselves from harm?
What is sexting?
The clue is in the title. Quite simply, sexting is the act of sending sexually provocative content from one individual to another, typically in the form of messages such as texts or instant messages on social media platforms, and sometimes in the form of photos or videos (“nudes” or “underwear pics” fall into this category).
With social media and the internet now forming such a huge part of children and teens’ social lives, their communication with friends and even strangers is easier than ever before. At the touch of a button or the tap of a keyboard, it’s possible to communicate with virtually anyone, no matter near or far—and while this can be a great thing in many ways, it also allows for opportunities such as sexting, which can end in disastrous consequences for many young people (and many adults too).
It is important to remember that it is illegal in the United Kingdom and many other countries for anyone under the age of 18 to view, distribute, store, or send nude or indecent images of themselves or any other individual under the age of 18 even if the child gave their permission for it to be created. Likewise, it is illegal for anyone aged 18 or over to view, distribute, store, or send nude or indecent images or videos of any individual under the age of 18 even if the child gave their permission for it to be created. It is a crime punishable by law, and any such content is classified as child abuse and will be treated as such regardless of the intentions of the victim, sender, or receiver.
How can you tell if a young person has been sexting?
There are no definitive ways of knowing if a young person has been sexting. Like so much else in a young person’s relationships, sexting most often takes place in private between one young person and another. It can be as simple as sending a one-off provocative message to someone else, or it can go as far as the regular exchange of nude photographs or otherwise provocative images and video.
Should I ask my child if they have ever heard of sexting?
There is certainly no harm in asking a young person if they have heard of sexting or if they know what it is. Actually, this can form a great opening to a discussion about the dangers of sexting and social media. However, you should try not to put a young person off the conversation by forcing them to talk about their own experiences if they feel uncomfortable to do so.
For understandable reasons, a young person may not respond well to being asked directly if they have ever “sexted” anyone. Many young people may be afraid or embarrassed to admit whether they have or have not. You should never approach this subject by embarrassing or making a child or young person feel ashamed of their actions—though you should always be sure to highlight the dangers of sexting and the harm it can cause to not just themselves but to everyone involved.
What are the dangers of sexting?
There are many dangers of sexting, but the first and most important danger to highlight is, “Once on the internet, always on the internet.” In other words, any content that you post online or send in a message will always exist online in some way. Perhaps not in any accessible format (in the case of Snapchat, for example, the image disappears “forever” after a few seconds—though it is never really gone even if the user themselves cannot access it) but all sorts of data can be stored within devices, apps, and websites that we may not be aware of. That’s not to mention the potential for other individuals to screenshot or save images.
Of course, in the wrong hands, any private content can be used in a negative way to bring harm or shame to an individual. When it comes to approaching the topic of the dangers of sexting with young people, you should reinforce the message that it is best to assume the worst-case scenario first, even if they feel they can really trust the individual they are sending the content through.
How can I be affected by the dangers of sexting?
It’s important to remember that sexting is not only dangerous for the individual(s) sending the content. It can also be really harmful for anyone receiving the content too. It is illegal to view, store, distribute, or send indecent images or videos of young people under the age of 18 in any context. It is considered child abuse imagery and it is a crime punishable by law in the United Kingdom and many other countries.
For this reason, you should never ask a young person to show you or to “forward” any such harmful content on to you. Take the young person’s disclosure at face value and do not ask them to show evidence. If you view, pass on, or store the indecent content, you will also be committing a crime no matter your intent.
Want to learn more about the dangers of sexting?
We expand upon the dangers of sexting alongside many other important online safety training topics in our bestselling e-Safety Training and e-Safety for Parents online courses. Each course takes around 1 hour to complete entirely online, with the option to pause and restart the course as many times as needed. Upon successful completion of the final assessment, you can download and print a verifiable online safety certificate to evidence your training to Ofsted and equivalent inspecting bodies.
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