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You’ve just found out your child’s been sexting. Now what?

By Vicki Shotbolt, CEO of Parent Zone and executive board member of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety

It’s never a good moment to find out that your child has done something you’d rather they hadn’t. From failing to turn up to lessons to having a cigarette at a party, there are plenty of ways for children to push the boundaries, take risks and make silly decisions. It’s part of growing up.

Most parents find themselves asking the ‘you did what?’ question from time to time. Discovering that your child has been sexting – sharing a naked or near-naked image – is something you may need to respond to at some point. Here are our tips to help you, should the moment arise.

• First things first, remember it isn’t the end of the world but nor is it something you should ignore. Lots of young people do it for a whole range of different reasons – some romantic, some silly and occasionally some malicious. Whatever the reason, you need to explain calmly and without judgement that it isn’t a good idea.

It is an offence to share images of a child, even if you are the child doing it, and once an image is shared it is pretty much impossible to get it back. That means it could be used to embarrass your child or worse, nudge them into doing things they don’t want to.

It’s not likely that your child will be criminalised because of sharing a naked image – the police have special provision for sexting that allows them to record incidences in a way that ensures it doesn’t end up on a young person’s record. But no-one wants their child having dealings with the police, so the first thing to do is to make sure they understand the issues with sexting and why it’s a bad idea.
There are lots of resources you can share with your child if you find you need backup to your reasoned explanation! We’re big fans of Brook – the sexual health charity. You can find their information for young people on sexting here.

• The next thing you need to know is whether the issue has already escalated. Is your child’s school involved? Is your child upset because the image has been shared beyond the person they wanted it to be shared with?
What’s important now is to help your child resolve it. You’re their wing man. Don’t panic and take over and make them feel even worse. It’s tempting, but it’s not what’s needed.
If their school is involved, arrange to meet with their teacher or whoever is dealing with it at school. Find out how the school has responded and make sure your child is happy with what is happening and has the support they need to get through what is inevitably going to be an upsetting time for them.
If your child tells you an image has been shared and they want your help to deal with that, your next port of call should be the CEOP website. It has great resources to help you work through the problem and access support for your child if they need it. 
• Last, but not least, when you’ve got through the immediate crisis, take a breath and plan your next step. If it was a childish prank, you might not need to take any further action. If it was the start of your child becoming sexually active, it is probably time to start talking more openly about sex and relationships. Perhaps you already do – but it might still be worth double checking that they have the information they need. Our article on sexually active teens brings all the info you need together. 

And remember to check out some of our other resources on sexting:

Image: Arnolds Auziņš, CC BY-SA 2.0