The term ‘sexting’ is used to describe the exchange of sexually explicit images, photos, messages or videos and it generally includes messages sent via email, text, messenger or social media.
There's many reasons why young people participate in sexting. They feel they love and trust their partner and it's a good way of affirming their feelings. It may be down to peer pressure - whether it be a demanding partner or friends encouraging them to send something, or even an adult they've met online.
Sexting can have a long-lasting impact on a child's self-esteem and their reputation as sometimes images that were not intended for sharing beyond the recipient can spread incredibly quickly, causing them huge emotional distress - 21% of reports to Child Exploitation and Online Protection were about the sharing of a self-created indecent image.
It can lead to lead to negative comments and bullying as explicit content can spread very quickly over the internet and affect your child's reputation at school or in the community and could also affect education and employment prospects.
When children engage in sexting they're creating an indecent image of a person under the age of 18 which, even if they take it themselves, is against the law. Distributing an indecent image of a child - sending it on via text - is also illegal.
Firstly, talk to your child about it and encourage them to think about everything they send asking 'would I want my family, teachers or future employer to see this?’ If children understand this early - it can be applied to how they behave online in general.
Talk about peer pressure and stress the importance of trust, respect and consent in healthy relationships. And remind them of the consequences.
Explore the facts: Find out who the content was shared with initially and find out if it's been shared with malicious intent or not.
Contact school: Your child's school can help provide support and they should have a process in place to stop the image spreading further.
Report it: If you think the image has been shared with an adult contact CEOP - Child Exploitation and Online Protection – who are the police department for online child sexual exploitation.
Contact the website or provider: Social media sites should remove the image if asked. If the image has been shared via mobile, the provider should be able to provide you with a new number.
Contact ChildLine: If your child calls ChildLine and reports the image they will work with the Internet Watch Foundation to get all known copies of the image removed from online.
Remember, your connection and acceptance to your child is the most important factor in helping reduce the impact of this issue.
Don’t wait for an incident to happen. One in four children have received an unwanted image on the subject of sex so you should start talking to your child about the dangers of sexting as soon as they start using the internet or get a mobile phone.
For more information and resources to help keep children safe online visit internetmatters.org
By Carolyn Bunting, General Manager of Internet Matters
Internet Matters is an independent, not-for-profit organisation which aims to help parents keep their children safe online. It was founded by the UK’s four major broadband providers; BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media, and is also partnered with the BBC, Google, Facebook, EE and Dixons Carphone. Internet Matters is an Executive Member of UKCCIS (UK Council for Child Internet Safety) and an industry expert working with The Royal Foundation task force on the Prevention of Cyberbullying, founded by the Duke of Cambridge.