| Education

Let's talking about sexting

| 20 Dec 2022

Children are on their devices more than ever before. The average child now spends 3.8 hours a day online, up over 10% from the year before. Whilst spending time online can be good for cultivating social skills and helping with homework, it can, unfortunately, open your child up to abuse.

Whether through social media apps or games, children often send images and messages to their family, friends, or even strangers online. Whilst much of it is entirely innocent, there is a growing trend for children to be asked to send sexually explicit photos, messages, and video clips. 

Research from the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), which work internationally to find and remove child sexual abuse material from the internet, suggests that self-generated pictures and videos now account for nearly six in ten (59%) of the imagery it acts upon. This equates to 147,188 cases of self-generated child sexual abuse imagery (particularly by girls aged 11-13) in 2021 alone. This was a significant increase on the year before and was, in part, thought to be due to the long periods of lockdowns imposed worldwide to halt the pandemic. 

There is no doubt that impressionable children can feel pressure to take explicit photos and videos of themselves or pass on those taken by others. Whether it is from their partner, friend, or someone they met online. Whilst exploring sex and relationships is a natural part of adolescence, it is essential that you make your child aware that they should never be bullied into doing something they are not comfortable with. 

Plus, there are, of course, legal ramifications. When a child engages in sexting, they create an indecent image of a person under 18. This means the making of the image, plus distributing it, is illegal. Whilst it is unlikely a child would be prosecuted for a first offence, the police would certainly want to investigate, causing untold embarrassment. 

Whilst social media messaging services, game chats and traditional SMS are known to be used for sexting, WhatsApp and Snapchat remain the most popular due to their perceived security. Yet, whatever platform is used, the ramifications are the same. The moment an image or video is shared, it leaves the child vulnerable to bullying, embarrassment, or even blackmail.

Sexting isn’t perhaps as endemic as the press would have you believe, though. Only around one in six (17%) of those ages 15 and over quizzed by Internet Matters said they had shared a nude or sexual photo of themselves. Most of those said that they shared the images because they wanted to, did it for fun or thought they looked good. 

Although children (particularly those in a relationship) may see sexting as a harmless activity, the taking, sharing, and receiving of such an image can have a long-lasting impact on a child’s self-esteem. It can cause emotional distress, affect their reputation now and in the future, and is illegal. Because of this, it is essential that you explain the dangers. There is a good advice hub on sexting here to read and share.

Want to learn more about online safety for kids?

In partnership with Internet Matters , we have created a new free and comprehensive online learning platform to change the way schools and parents teach online safety. Digital Matters provides interactive lessons and dynamic storytelling, helping engage young people in online safety.


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