It may feel awkward, but it’s important to explain to children the risks of sexting, how to stay safe and remind them that they can talk to you if something ever makes them feel scared or uncomfortable.

What is sexting?

Around 1 in 7 young people have taken a semi-naked/naked picture of themselves. Over half went on to share the picture with someone else.

Sexting generally refers to the sending of sexually explicit images via text, email, MSN or through social networking sites. For example, this could be a picture of a boy or young man exposing himself or a young woman in a state of undress.

There could be many reasons why young people would want to take these sorts of pictures and send them to someone else. It could be that two young people who are in a relationship want to prove their love or commitment to each other; it could be that someone is looking to start a relationship with someone else or it could be that they simply want to show off.

Sexting may also be called:

  •  trading nudes
  •  dirties
  •  pic for pic.


Most young people today are entirely comfortable with recording their entire lives online – much like other generations used to do in a diary.

These days though, this often includes uploading and sharing photos, status messages on what has been happening in their lives or how they are feeling, and texting back and for. While this ‘finger on the pulse, share all’ culture has some benefits, it can also create an environment in which teenagers and young people make impulsive decisions without thinking through the possible consequences. Often times, they are only a click away from doing something digitally that they would not normally do in the real world.

What the law says

Sexting can be seen as harmless, but creating or sharing explicit images of a child is illegal, even if the person doing it is a child. A young person is breaking the law if they:

  •  take an explicit photo or video of themselves or a friend
  •  share an explicit image or video of a child, even if it’s shared between children of the same age
  •  possess, download or store an explicit image or video of a child, even if the child gave their permission for it to be created.

However, as of January 2016 in England and Wales, if a young person is found creating or sharing images, the police can choose to record that a crime has been committed but that taking formal action isn’t in the public interest.

Crimes recorded this way are unlikely to appear on future records or checks, unless the young person has been involved in other similar activities which may indicate that they’re a risk.

Why do young people sext?

  •  joining in because they think that ‘everyone is doing it’
  •  boosting their self-esteem
  •  flirting with others and testing their sexual identity
  •  exploring their sexual feelings
  •  to get attention and connect with new people on social media
  •  they may find it difficult to say no if somebody asks them for an explicit image, especially if the person asking is persistent

What are the risks of sexting?

No control of images and how they’re shared

It’s easy to send a photo or message but the sender has no control about how it’s passed on.

When images are stored or shared online they become public. Some people may think that images and videos only last a few seconds on social media and then they’re deleted, but they can still be saved or copied by others.

This means that photos or videos which a young person may have shared privately could still be end up being shared between adults they don’t know.

Blackmail, bullying and harm

Young people may think sexting is harmless but it can leave them vulnerable to:

  •  Blackmail – An offender may threaten to share the pictures with the child’s family and friends unless the child sends money or more images.
  •  Bullying – If images are shared with their peers or in school, the child may be bullied.
  •  Unwanted attention – Images posted online can attract the attention of sex offenders, who know how to search for, collect and modify images.
  •  Emotional distress – Children can feel embarrassed and humiliated. If they’re very distressed this could lead to suicide or self-harm.