Sending nudes and sexting
It is important to talk with your children about the possible consequences of sending or sharing intimate or sexually explicit messages, images, photos or videos.
And there are ways you can help if things go wrong.
The term ‘sexting’ is not often used by young people or in popular culture. Young people are more likely to refer to other terms like ‘sending nudes’ or ‘dick pics’.
What are the risks?
Sharing intimate images may seem like a bit of fun or innocent flirting for young people, particularly those in a relationship. But things can go wrong and it is important your child understands this.
The child loses control of the image
- Once an image is shared, it can be copied and saved by others, shared with people the sender does not know and posted on social media and public websites.
- Images can be extremely difficult to remove and the consequences can follow a young person into adulthood.
Things can go wrong even in a trusted relationship or friendship
- A friend or partner may, on impulse and without thinking, share an image more broadly than the sender intended.
- Sometimes when a relationship breaks down there may be an intent to humiliate an ex-partner or friend. This is image-based abuse.
Images may not always be sent willingly
- Young people may be forced or pressured into sending explicit images or videos.
- This may be a particular risk when communicating on a dating site or with strangers whose real motives might not be known or understood.
- Even young people who know each other may experience coercion or pressure to send a nude.
- Sometimes sexting can lead to ‘sextortion’ — blackmail with a sexual component — when someone threatens to share an intimate image unless the person in the image pays money or gives into their demands.
The consequences can be serious
For young people, sharing naked or sexually explicit images might result in:
Humiliation, guilt, shame, anger and self-blame — which can lead to ongoing emotional distress, withdrawal from school and family life and in severe cases, self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
Bullying, teasing and harassment from peers — they may experience bullying, including cyberbullying, if photos are shared around their school community or friendship group.
Damage to their reputation — it may impact on their reputation and performance at school, as well as employment opportunities in the future
Criminal charges and penalties — it can be a crime when it involves asking for, accessing, creating, possessing and/or sharing sexualised images of people under 18.
How can I minimise the risks to my child?
Talk early, talk often
Match your approach to your child’s level of maturity, age and the type of relationship you share with them. Maybe take the opportunity for a chat while you are doing something together, like a long walk or a car trip.
You could start from a real life story in the media or from their school or community, asking questions like: Do you think it was right for her to share that photo after they broke up? Do you think it was right for him to post that video online of his friend having sex with a girl?
Explore what their friends think about sharing nudes. Ask what they think might happen if one of their friend’s nudes went viral, and how it might make their friend feel.
Let them know that they can always approach you if they feel pressured to share an image of themselves or if they have shared an image of someone else. Let them know that you will support them.
Promote self-confidence and that it is OK to say ‘no’
Explain that they do not have to send intimate images just because others do.
Let them know that it is OK to say ‘no’ when someone asks for an intimate photo, even if it is their boyfriend or girlfriend or someone they trust. Respecting their bodies and personal values is important.
Talk about ways your child can handle a request for a nude photo. They could respond in funny ways like sending a picture of some noodles or an animal.
If the unwanted requests continue, encourage your child to reply with a stern ‘no’. But if things get aggressive, your child should consider blocking the person and seek support from a trusted adult. It is also a good idea to save screenshots of any abusive or threatening message in case you want to report them later on.
Teach them about consent, personal boundaries and respect for self and others
Help them understand the impact of sharing images of others and that they are breaking someone’s trust when they do this without their consent.
Talk about what healthy and respectful relationships look like. Mutual respect, trust and consent are important.
Pressure from a boyfriend or girlfriend to share an intimate image is not an example of a respectful relationship.
Talk about the risks — what can go wrong, and the legal issues
Remind them that once an image is shared, it is almost impossible to get it back or control how it is shared.
Point out that images which include identifiable features, such as a person’s face, hair, tattoos, distinctive clothing or jewellery, can carry a higher risk. It may also be possible to identify someone by matching the background of the image to the background of their public profile pic.
Help them understand that viewing or sending intimate images can carry the risk of committing a crime, even if the image has been willingly shared.
What can I do when things go wrong?
Stay calm and open
- Try to approach the situation calmly. If you are upset or angry, your child may feel like they cannot come to you about other concerns in the future.
- Thank them for being brave enough to let you know.
- While being supportive, help them understand the consequences of their actions. Reassure them that they are not alone and you will work through this together.
Listen, and act fast
Gather as many details as you can and act fast to minimise the risk of harm — see advice below on steps you can take depending on the situation.
Seek help if you are concerned about your child
- Consider talking to your GP if you have other concerns about the health and wellbeing of your child and seek a referral to an adolescent psychologist.
- Young people can access counselling services from Child Helpline . Local community legal centres can also assist with advice and referrals.
Steps to take depending on the situation
There are practical steps you can take to support your child. If the police get involved, you can seek advice about the relevant laws and your child’s rights from a lawyer or legal service. Legal issues tend to arise if the images involve someone under 18 or if a photo or video of someone has been deliberately shared without their consent.
If your child has sent an intimate image of themselves
Explain why it is a problem
- Gently remind your child that once an image is shared, it can be very difficult to control what happens to it.
- Help them understand that viewing or sending an intimate image carries the risk of committing a crime, even if they have willingly shared the image.
Try to limit sharing
- Ensure your child does not share the image with anyone else — delete the photo.
- Help your child ask the person who received the image to delete it and find out if it has been shared with anyone else. If not, ask them not to do so — explain that this is a serious matter and that police might be involved. If it has, see try to get it removed below.
- If you are considering contacting the other child’s parents, be aware that this may escalate the problem — barriers can go up and the blame game can start.
- If other students of your child’s school are involved, notify the school. With care and sensitivity, the school may be able to help minimise further distribution of the material by initiating contact with families and/or other schools of the children involved. (Be aware that some schools have mandatory reporting requirements and, depending on the circumstances, may be required to report the matter to relevant authorities.)
Try to get the image removed
- If the material has been posted online, report it to Authorities and they can help to get the image removed.
Report any serious concerns
- If you believe the request for intimate images was from an adult, contact your local police immediately as this may be a case of grooming.
- the online material includes serious bullying or harassing content, you can make a cyberbullying report to Police
This material has been adapted with permission from the Australian Government eSafety Commissioner. Permission to adapt content does not constitute endorsement of material by the eSafety Commissioner.