What parents need to know about sexting

Parents give their teens a smartphone so they can stay in contact with them. But, for teens it's the key to their social life. 

Majority of teens just use their smartphones for social media or watching YouTube on the go, but with a camera at the ready and someone they like asking for a nude photo  - it’s very easy for even the most sensible teens to get caught up in sexting.

In case you’re wondering exactly what sexting means - it's when you take an explicit or sexual image of yourself and send it to another person. We sat down with Psychologist and Cyber Expert Jordan Foster from ySafe to discuss the important questions parents have about sexting and what they can do to help prevent it, plus some handy tips for when these situations get out of hand.

Why do teens do it?

‘Females and males often have different motivations and reasoning behind why they feel compelled to sext,’ says Jordan. ‘It can often begin within a relationship and more frequently it is found that teen boys are pressuring teen girls to share nude images. The motivations are similar to what they’ve always been - boys often seek validation from their friends and girls often seek validation from the boys. The key difference between now and then is that these days, some young girls are of the opinion that sharing a nude photo without their face is an easy way to relieve the pressure that boys are placing on them to engage in sexual activity,’ Jordan explains. ‘In many cases it can often be seen as a way to show love and affection, and sometimes boys may use this as a way to manipulate girls. This isn’t just a problem with boys pressuring girls, however. I have come across many cases where teen girls are pressuring boys to share nude images to use as collateral or even to gang up and bully them.’

What are the consequences?

‘The consequences can be difficult to explain to teens, as they vary from a legal sense state to state, but also because teens really lack the foresight to understand the personal ramifications of sexting,’ explains Jordan. ‘Capturing and sharing nude images of a person under 18 is illegal in WA and illegal for persons under 16 in all other states, as a nude image of an underage person is considered child exploitation material (child porn). However, the penalties for perpetrators are much harsher in some states than in others - for example, in Victoria young people who sext can be charged and placed on the sex offenders registry. It’s vital to review the laws in your state to explain to your child what kind of legal trouble they can get into if they sext,’  says Jordan. ‘Teens also struggle to understand that what goes on the internet, stays on the internet, and sexting images spread like wildfire. They think they’re only sending it to one person, but that image or video can be seen by hundreds of people in just minutes. And, with facial recognition technology being used in society more and more frequently, it’s becoming so easy to find these images online by other people, predators and even potential employers’.

What apps are they using to sext?

‘Teens most commonly use Snapchat to send sexting images, as they’re under the impression that these images will expire or that they’ll know straight away if the receiver has taken a screenshot of the snap. This isn’t always the case, though, as there are glitches that enable users to take undetected screenshots,’ explains Jordan.

How to discuss it with daughters?

‘The conversation with teen girls often needs to be quite different to teen boys - it’s just not enough to say “don’t do it”. It’s vital to have frequent and open conversations with your daughter about the pressure they’re under to send these images,’ explains Jordan. ‘Raise points like, “How would you feel if this was sent out to other people?” or, “How do you know they won’t send it to other people?” And, in the case where they may be pressuring boys to send images, ask them about their motivations for doing this - ask them “Why do you want a photo of this person’s naked body? What are you going to do with it?”.

How to discuss it with sons?

‘Young boys really struggle to prioritise feelings of empathy over their own desire to look cool in front of their friends. They can understand why asking for, and then sending someone else's nude images is totally wrong, but this will often lose out to the confidence gained when their mates look up to them as being the most successful with girls or the most sexually active. They’re also more heavily driven by hormones and instant gratification,’ says Jordan. ‘It’s important to reiterate the legal consequences of their behaviour, ask them if it’s worth having a criminal record. And regarding the sending of their own nude images, again ask them if it’s worth it.’

What can parents do when it gets out of hand?

In cases where the images have been forwarded and shared online, I recommend contacting the social media site to have the image removed and then either reporting the situation to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner here: https://esafety.gov.au or contacting the police. As I’ve said, teens really do lack the foresight to understand the consequences of sexting behaviour. Their brains are also wired to be much more impulsive than an adult’s brain. The key to solving these issues is to constantly reinforce the importance of not engaging in this behaviour. But, also discuss a harm minimisation approach and tell them not to include any identifying features in their image, like their face. Whilst this isn't about condoning the behaviour, this reduces the emotional and social fallout if the image is shared,’ says Jordan.


Managing sexting and cyber safety in general can be a difficult journey for parents. But that’s where Family Zone and our team of Cyber Experts, including Jordan, come in. We’re here to help parents protect their family from online risks such as sexting, grooming, excessive social media and inappropriate content.

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Topics: Parental Controls, Mobile Apps, Cyber Safety, sexting

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