I know this is a subject all parents worry about at some point. It has become a growing concern for me as my children get older and the pressure at school for them to use websites that I don’t particularly approve of increase. Social media has taken over our lives and everything is put on show for the world to see, even if you don’t want to be on there, somehow, you will be, whether that’s through someone else posting a picture of you that you didn’t even know had been taken or, you get tagged. All these social media sites have rules and you have to be a certain age to use them, but it’s easy enough to lie and that’s what most children will do. So what else will they be willing to do to fit in? I am constantly worrying about these things. There is no doubt; sexting is every parent’s modern-day nightmare!
There is already plenty of advice out there about how to stay safe online but I wanted to really focus on sexting, sharing photos and the law. I would also like to share my top ten tips for keeping our children safe.
What is sexting?
I have a real fear of what is happening with our children who are living in an era of selfies and photo sharing. They take photos of everything, from the food they eat to explicit photos of themselves or others. Phones, tablets and computers are equipped with cameras and taking photos of anything is just so easy. Sharing these photos has got even easier. Sharing photos that are quite innocent, such as their dinner, isn’t such a problem. The problems starts when they have been influenced, or feel the pressure to share photos of themselves that can be seen as sexual, whether that be semi-naked, naked or sends/ receives sexually explicit messages. This is sexting. Some of the terminology used for sexting are, trading nudes, pic for pic and dirties.
What does the law have to say about sexting?
Now if an adult decides to send explicit images to another adult, they are well within their rights to do so but what does the law say about sexting and children. Sharing and creating explicit images of a child is illegal even if the person doing it is a child. Yes, if your child does it, they are breaking the law and could get themselves into serious trouble, even if they are sexting another child. This includes pictures or videos of themselves or other children. It also includes possessing, downloading or storing an explicit image or video of a child. This can be recorded as a crime and will stay on the child’s criminal record.
None of us want this for our children and it is frightening for two reasons. Firstly, the idea that our children could take such images/ videos and share them, and that those images or videos are being shared from person to person. This could lead to blackmailing, bullying and harm. You just don’t know where it could end up. Secondly, your child would be breaking the law!!
Why would children take part in sexting?
I have often wondered why children feel they need to sext. There are various reasons ranging from enjoying the attention and that in turn, makes them feel good, to wanting to fit in and not knowing how to say no. Whatever the reason is, there a need for a conversation and education.
What happens if a child has been affected by sexting?
If your child has already been affected by sexting, there are a number of things you need to be aware of. Your initial reaction may be of shock, anger and disappointment but your child needs you right now, so be supportive, listen and make sure they are not alone. Your child will feel a sense of relief!
If your child has been affected by sexting, they could have shared an explicit image or video, lost control of a sexual image or may have been sent a sexual image.
Top 10 Tip to keep children safe from sexting
- Start the dialogue about the use of devices at an early age – be a role model and practise what you preach. That means putting for phone away at dinner time, talk to your child without having your eyes glued to your screen – put it down. Your child will learn that rules are more than just rules and you are building a good foundation for ensuring your child is on their way to being safe on the internet.
- Set up parental controls – setting up parental controls with your internet service provider or on your child’s phone can stop them from accessing harmful content.
- Make time for conversation – allow time to discuss with your child what your expectations are and give them a chance to tell you what they think is acceptable. If you are worried about what they tell you, you have an opportunity to discuss it and stop it in its tracks. Ensure your child knows that they have the right to say no and that their body is private, it is absolutely not ok for others to make them feel uncomfortable or put pressure on them. It is important to tell them about the risks of sexting and what could go wrong but most importantly let them know that they will always have your support and understanding to put things right.
- Keep an eye on what they’re doing! I’m not encouraging you to spy on your children as I think it’s really important to build trust and allow children the opportunity to come and talk to us when they need to but, you should be aware of what apps they are using and who they are communicating with using those apps. There are a few social media sites especially built for children but even they have been known to be used to groom children and adults have easily created fake profiles to lure children in. You really have no idea who they are really talking to. Even if you trust your child, you can’t always trust who they are talking to. Remember children are vulnerable, so they can be seen as easy targets. They don’t like getting into trouble so if they are being groomed and told not to tell, they may not because they don’t want to get in trouble.
- Share cases of sexting – If your child is aware of real-life stories of victims of sexting, they may become more aware of how real this problem actually is.
- Delete all explicit photos and videos – Even if your child hasn’t shared any explicit images of themselves but have taken some, they need to delete as storing them is a criminal offense. Also, if they don’t have them on their phones, they can’t send them!
- Look out for unusual behaviour – A change in behaviour could mean all sorts of things. Especially negative behaviour such as being withdrawn, tearful and secretive. You need to get to the bottom of it before it escalates. If your child is hiding their phone, not allowing you to look at it when you ask, or they are up very late at night on their phone, you may want to find out what it is and if they are involved in sexting.
If your child has been affected by sexting…
- By sharing an explicit image or video – ask them who they sent it to and delete the images from your child’s device and from all social media. You could ask for help from the school to help stop the image from circulating. If the image has been put on the internet, avoid making any comments on it as it will increase the chances of it being seen more often. If the image has been shared with an adult then it’s a lot more serious as your child could have been groomed. Grooming is illegal and you will have to contact the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (https://www.ceop.police.uk/safety-centre/)
- By losing control of a sexual image – If your child’s image is being spread across the internet, you can get help from Childline and The Internet Watch Foundation – (IWF) https://www.iwf.org.uk/ to help you get the image removed. You will have to get your child to call up Childline or you can go directly to IWF on their behalf. It such as worry if this happens but there is help out there. Whatever you do, do not keep a copy of the image on your device as you could get yourself into trouble.
- By receiving a sexual image – This could be sent from another child or an adult. You will have to ask your child who the image has come from and their age. If the sender is a young person, you could get your child to help the other child and get them to delete the image. If it’s an adult, you will have to report it to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre as your child is at risk of being groomed.
I hope this has been informative and of use to you. I think it’s so important to keep our children safe and just because they are indoors, doesn’t mean they are. Technology is changing and evolving every day and our child are getting better at using it, but it comes with its dangers. Be safe.
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