Young people and sexting
What is Sexting?
Sexting is when someone sends sexually explicit pictures of themselves or others via a mobile phone, email or the web.
Young people often refer to these images as ‘nudes’.
These pictures can include sexual, naked or semi-naked images or videos of themselves or others, or sending sexually explicitly-worded messages.
These messages or pictures can be sent using mobiles, tablets, smartphones, laptops – any device that allows you to share media and messages.
To some young people, sexting can be seen as harmless. There are, however, a number of dangers inherent in the practice.
These include the potential for images to be shared non-consensually – whereby a person who has been sent images in good faith decides to forward these onto others without the consent of the person who created the image.
When images are shared between two people in a relationship who subsequently break up, these images can be used to blackmail the other person or posted online in an act of revenge.
Any minor found to possess and distribute these types of images who comes to the attention of An Garda Siochana will be assigned to their local Juvenile Liaison Officer (JLO) and enrolled in a juvenile justice programme.
Why would a child or young person sext?
Smartphone access has changed the way we communicate. Sexting is an extension of that.
Young people may send sexting images or messages as they think that everyone is doing it. It can also be away for a young person to test their sexual identity, explore their sexual feelings and flirt with others. Some young people may get attention or a boost to their self-esteem and find that sexting is an opportunity to connect with new people on social media.
For other young people, they may be in a relationship and feel that they trust the person they are sexting. It can be seen as an element of safe sex. If children or a young person sends images to a person they trust, they may not think there's much risk involved.
Most of these motivations would not necessarily be considered unusual for teenagers.
Who would young people sext?
Young people may sext with a friend, boyfriend, girlfriend or someone they’ve met online.
Sexting may happen quickly and easily, however things can also go wrong and sexting can result in unintended consequences. A photograph can be shared online and re-shared, leading it to being viewed by a potentially large audience.
How to speak with your child or young person about sexting?
A child or young person may feel guilty, ashamed, embarrassed or anxious speaking to you about sexting.
If they have been sending explicit images or videos of themselves, they may not want to tell an adult / parent / care giver as they may think the adult may feel shocked, upset, angry, confused or disappointed.
If you do find that your child or young person has engaged in sexting, it is important that you process the information carefully and remember they will be aware of your reactions.
You may find it most helpful to remain calm, respond and try not to judge, or make any judgements about the act when talking about it.
Sometimes young people can feel pressurised into engaging in behaviour such as sexting as they want to liked and accepted.
An open discussion about what is and what is not appropriate behaviour in relationships can help.
A young person’s awareness and working on their self-esteem with family and parents can help them deal with pressure and work out what they are and are not ok with.
Tips for responding if your young person has engaged in sexting
- Reassure them that they aren’t alone
- Listen to them and offer support – they're probably upset and need your help and advice, not criticism
- Try not to shout or make them feel like it’s their fault
- Don’t ask questions like ‘why have you done it?’, as this may stop them from opening up to you
- Discuss the problem and the wider pressures that they may face, to help them to understand what's happened
- Assure them that you’ll do all you can to help
- Remind them that they can always talk to Childline or another trusted adult if they aren't comfortable talking directly to their parent / guardian / carer
What to do if a child/ young person has been affected by sexting
If Child / Young Person Sent the image
- Who they initially sent it to, their age & if they know whether its been shared with anyone else
- If the image was requested by an adult, contact the Gardai as this is grooming which is illegal
- Encourage them to delete images from their social media accounts if they’ve uploaded the images themselves
- If someone else has uploaded the image, consider asking them to remove it – if it is safe for the young person to engage.
- If the image was shared over the web don’t comment on it or share as this may mean the image is seen more widely
If Child / Young Person received the image
- If the image was sent by another young person, is it appropriate for your young person to be supported in speaking to the sender in order to stop future messages? (if safe for child/ young person to do so)
- It may be helpful to discuss blocking the sender on social media
- If the image was sent by an adult, it is important to contact Gardai as this may be part of a grooming process (which would be illegal)
- Webwise (www.webwise.ie) and Hotline (www.hotline.ie) offer information, advice and support to those who have been affected by the consequences of sexting
- Webwise.ie has information on how to take a screen shot to record what you are viewing online, it will also advise you how to report to individual websites
- Hotline.ie is a website to enable you to report illegal content found on the internet
- Hotline.ie provides an anonymous facility for the public to report suspected illegal content encountered on the Internet, in a secure and confidential way. It is run by the Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland
- Concerns about child welfare should be reported directly to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency
- Your local Garda station should be notified if you or a member of your family is being cyberbullied, threatened or harrassed.
Sexting and the law?
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