Sexting—how to support your child when things go wrong

Sometimes, despite our best efforts to protect them, children engage in risky online sexual behaviour.

It can be confronting to discover that your child has been involved in sexting. You may be struggling with your own feelings of anger, disappointment and disbelief. Take a moment to assess how you are feeling before you act and try to remain calm.

Depending on the situation, the police may or may not get involved. Legal issues tend to arise if the images involve someone under 18 or if they have deliberately shared a photo or video of someone without their consent.

Your child will likely be feeling anxious and vulnerable during this time. While being supportive, help them understand the consequences of their actions and reassure them that they are not alone and you will work through this together.

Girl talking with teacher

There are some practical steps you can take to support your child, which can vary depending on the situation.

What can I do if my child has sent an intimate image of themselves?

Act fast and gather as many details as you can. Find out the nature of the material and who they sent it to, so you can help minimise further sharing of the image.

The following steps may help:

  • ensure your child doesn’t share the image with anyone else—delete the photo
  • help your child ask the recipient to delete the photo 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
  • notify your child’s school if other students are involved—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 nature of the circumstances, may be required to report the matter to relevant authorities)
  • 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 the material has been uploaded to social media, try to get it removed by contacting the social media service providers through their ‘Report Abuse’ function—a list of providers and their contact details can be found here
  • you can make a cyberbullying complaint to eSafety if the online material includes serious bullying or harassing content—our cyberbullying support tool can help you get started with making a complaint
  • if the material has been shared online and your child is under 18 years of age then you can also report it to eSafety through our Cyber[Report!] complaints portal
  • Google reverse image search can help locate any other web pages with the material—however, if your child is under 18, you should report the material to our Cyber[Report!] complaints portal (viewing sexualised images of a minor, even if it is your child, may expose you to criminal liabilities)
  • 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
  • if you are worried that your child is vulnerable, encourage them to speak to a counsellor—try Kids Helpline (for 5 to 25 year olds) or eheadspace (for 12 to 25 year olds)
  • consider talking to your GP if you have other concerns about the health and well-being of your child and seek a referral to an adolescent psychologist.

What can I do if my child has received an intimate image of someone?

If the image is unwanted and persistent (for example, if you or your child have asked them to stop sending images and they continue), you may consider reporting their behaviour to the school or police.

If you have made a report to police, please follow their advice. Do not shut accounts or report them to the site if the matter is under police investigation (unless the police advise otherwise) as this may hamper the ability to retrieve evidence.

My daughter shared naked photos with her boyfriend. What can I do?

Audio description version

In most circumstances:

  • have your child delete the material immediately to prevent any further harm to the young person in the image and to protect your child from legal risks
  • if the sender is under the age of 18, help your child set boundaries with that person and assert that they don’t want to receive any further material of this type
  • if you have asked for the behaviour to cease and it continues you may want to advise your child’s school (be aware that some schools have mandatory reporting requirements and depending on the circumstances, may be required to report the matter to relevant authorities)
  • explore options with your child to block the sender on their device, messaging apps and social media or through their mobile phone provider
  • if the material was sent by an adult, contact your local police.

What can I do if my child has shared an intimate image of someone else?

Do your best to remain calm. Try to understand what has happened, how and why, including the impact it might be having on the child whose image has been shared. If the school or police are involved be sure to follow their advice.

The following steps may help minimise the risk of harm:

  • get the full story from your child so you can assess their level of responsibility
  • try to identify what has contributed to your child’s behaviour and ensure they understand the potential consequences of their behaviour—explain that it can be a crime to create, possess and/or share sexualised images of people under 18 years
  • encourage your child to have anyone involved delete the material from their devices and from anywhere else they may have shared them
  • if the material has been uploaded onto a website, help your child contact the website to have the material removed
  • contact your child’s school for help in minimising further distribution (be aware that some schools have mandatory reporting requirements and depending on the circumstances, may be required to report the matter to relevant authorities)
  • encourage your child to contact the original sender of the sext or the person affected by it to let them know that the image has been shared, but that you have done everything you can to rectify the problem
  • encourage your child to repair harm through a genuine apology—you may want to support your child by being there with them when they meet or talk to the affected person and their family
  • seek professional support and counselling—young people can access free confidential legal advice from Lawstuff and the National Children’s Youth Law Centre (for young people under 25 years) and counselling services from Kids Helpline (for 5 to 25 year olds) and eheadspace (for 12 to 25 year olds). Local community legal centres can also assist with advice and referrals.

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