Concerned about sexting? Be the 'Askable Parent'

When it comes to teens and sexting, many parents’ advice comes down to three little words: “Just say no.” But experts agree that dialogue - not sweeping parental pronouncements - is the best way to keep young people safe and sensible online.

“Be the Askable Parent,” is how sex educator and author Shafia Zaloom puts it in her  book Sex, Teens and Everything in Between, which offers evidence-based advice to mums and dads on dealing with the realities of nude image-sharing.

zaloomIn Australia, according to a survey by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, one in three young people aged 14-17 say they’ve experienced sexting in some way (sending, receiving, asking, being asked, or sharing intimate images). 

With the spike in screen-time associated with coronavirus restrictions, the practice has become even more widespread, with reports of image-based abuse skyrocketing by 86 percent, says eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant.

So how to talk to your kids about it? First, says Zaloom, kids need to understand the concept of consent. The example she uses with her students? Hot chips.

“What  happens when you sit down with a big plate of fries at a table with a bunch of friends?” she asks. 

shutterstock_1071620891“Then I ask, ‘You OK with that?’ Most of the kids shake their heads no. They say, ‘They’re mine. They belong to me.’ ‘Yeah, they didn’t ask.’

"What’s so important about asking? ‘It shows they respect you, and care about how you feel about sharing something that’s yours.’”

Young people who yearn for social approval - which is to say, all young people - hesitate to put an end to chip-sharing for fear of creating tension in the group. 

“Just as your fries belong to you, your body does too."

Saying no is especially hard at this stage of life. Teenagers are developmentally primed to seek peer-group acceptance. Social media has exacerbated the effect, as kids are socialised to find self esteem based on the “likes” and approving comments of others. 

Zaloom has found that young people need to hear the message that “sexual agency is essential. 

“Just as your fries belong to you, your body does too. You’re responsible when you choose to touch, and you get to choose how you’re touched because your body and sexuality belong to you.”

And when young people are sent sexual images they haven’t asked for - and that means girls in the overwhelming number of cases - “it may be experienced as the recipient having fries shoved down their throat.”

Avoid blame and shame

As for opening up dialogue - Zaloom stresses that parents need to steer clear of blame and shame. Talk “up” instead of “down” to your child.

That means avoiding judgmental statements like “Why would anyone send nudes?” in favour of a more indirect approach - something like, “I saw on the news that more adults are sexting right now. Do you think it’s the same with people your age?”

Keep it brief

Keep any individual discussion short - teens understandably have a dread of The Big Talk - and aim instead for casual but ongoing conversations. 

Invite critical thinking

The endgame here is to get teens to think through the issues for themselves. And that means encouraging critical thinking and problem-solving. 

Try questions like “What would happen if someone asked you to sext and you refused?” or “How do kids manage situations like that?”

Parents who understand that young people are, almost by definition, insecure about their place in their social world will be better placed to explore more nuanced options than “just say no.” And kids who see their mums and dads as Askable Parents will be much more likely to seek advice when they need it. 


Being an "Askable Parent" is the best way to keep your kids smart, safe and sensible online. Find out how Family Zone can help.

Start your free trial today, and create a home where digital children thrive.



Tell me more!

Topics: Parental Controls, Screen time, Mobile Apps, online safety, sexting, peer pressure, nude images

    Try Family Zone for FREE

    Sign up now to try Family Zone for 1 month, totally free of charge.

    Free Trial
    Subscribe to our newsletter
    Follow us on social media
    Popular posts
    Parental Controls | Mobile Apps | Cyber Safety | teens on social media
    Can we talk? 100 questions your teen might actually answer
    Parental Controls | Screen time | youtube | smartphones | WhatsApp | suicide | self-harm | momo
    MOMO unmasked
    Parental Controls | Cyber Safety | Cyber Experts | parenting | roblox
    Roblox: What parents need to know about this popular gaming platform
    Parental Controls | Cyber Safety | tinder | Cyber Experts | parenting | yellow
    Yellow: The Tinder for Teens
    Parental Controls | Social Media | privacy | decoy app
    Hide It Pro: A decoy app to look out for
    Cyber Bullying | Parental Controls | Screen time | Mobile Apps | Cyber Safety | online predators | tiktok | paedophile | child predator | Likee
    LIKEE: What parents need to know about this risky TikTok wannabe

    Recent posts

    Press the reset button on your kid’s online routine

    COVID blew up our teens’ screen-time. It’s time to get them back on track. In the wake of the COVID pandemic, our children are facing a ...

    Bigger families face super-sized screen-time challenges

    If you have more than one child - and statistics show 86 percent of families do - then managing screen-time can be double trouble. Or ...

    'Bigorexia' a growing risk for today's boys

    We’re starting to understand how social media can damage girls’ self-esteem - but what about our boys? New research finds disturbing ...

    The metaverse: Brave new world - or an upgrade for predators?

    Mixing kids and adult strangers in a self-moderated online environment ... What could possibly go wrong?