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Sexting and Its Impact On Young People

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

Teen on smartphone in the dark

Understanding sexting and the risks for your child

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

Here are some facts about sexting:

  • Sexting is using the internet, apps or a mobile phone for creating, sharing, sending or posting sexually explicit messages, images or videos
  • 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 send a sexualised image or video of a person under 18
  • If your child sends a sexy image or ‘nude’, they have no control over where it might end up
  • Victims of sexting may experience serious psychological harm and ongoing damage to their reputation

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 phones and technology paired with normal teen risk taking behaviour and interest in sexual experimentation

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

It is easier to let your guard down on the phone or online than it might be in person

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

Clues that sexting might be impacting your child

You might notice your child:

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

Common worries parents have about sexting

You might worry about: 

  • What others will think, will they judge me as a parent? You are not alone! Many parents have been where you are now.
  • I’m upset or angry and I feel like I want to punish my child. Talk to Parentline or someone you trust about how you're feeling before talking to your child.
  • How does a parent talk about this with their child? Stay calm and let your child know you want to help and support them.
  • Who can I talk to about this? Parentline is here to support you.

Common worries young people have about sexting

Your child might worry about: 

  • Being charged even if they didn’t mean for the image to be distributed or know it’s illegal. The police will take this into consideration and as a parent you can support your child to report the sexting to the police.
  • Parents will get angry with them. Talk to your child calmly about their experience of sexting and let them know you want to help.
  • Parents will take away their phone and internet or limit their access. Reassure your child that talking to you will not mean they have to stop using their phone.
  • Being bullied and shamed at school or in public. As a parent you can support your child to report sexting to the police or on the eSafety website as well as supporting your child to talk to their school or to Kids Helpline about any bullying or harassment.

Help is always available

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

This content was last reviewed 15/05/2018

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