Sexting – sending explicit pictures and messages to others – is rife among young people. The consequences are stark, long-lasting and costly on all kinds of levels.
Unsure? Check out my first post on this subject – Sexting: why it’s not sexy…

Sexting - James Brey iStock_000020990475XSmall (2)

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto/JamesBrey

The bottom line is this: once a picture is taken and sent, you can never take it back. Ever. It’s gone.
All control over it is lost. Who sees it. Whom they send it on to. Which websites it gets posted on. None of this can be controlled.

So what can be done?…

First, let’s remind ourselves what sexting is. In their study of sexting, the NSPCC defined it as the:

“exchange of sexual messages or images” and “creating, sharing and forwarding sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images” through mobile phones and the Internet.”

This is the gadget generation. Most young people have a smartphone that can take and share pictures easily and instantly. Once the pictures get online, the consequences can be vast.
Not just the teasing and the shame that goes with it. But the potential for bullying, intimidation and social isolation. For a few young people, this has pushed them too far and they took their own lives.
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So what can parents do to help?

  • Don’t assume they’re too young – one of the problems highlighted in a recent NSPCC survey of year 8 children was parents failing to support their kids. They failed because they thought their kids were too young. The prevalence of mobile phone technology and the slow creep of pubescence down the age scale means we may need to revise our views.
  • Remember, it’s NOT “stranger danger” – whilst the dangers from predatory paedophiles remain, particularly online, risks from sexting lie in other areas too. Mainly from people known to the teenagers. Most often, other young people.
  • Remind them that “Friends” can be fickle – we all know that kids can be cruel, not least to each other. It only takes one person to misuse or pass on a picture, and a young person’s social world can collapse. The bullying and manipulation can become unbearable.
  • Relationships change – A boyfriend or girlfriend today, may be a social antagonist tomorrow. They may send a photo or text to others who don’t care where it ends up. Being “in love” brings its pitfalls. Parents do well to remind teenagers of this occasionally.
  • You can’t take it back – This is a key message. Once a young person sends a message or picture that is compromising, it can’t be retrieved. It’s gone for good. It’s “out there.”

This list isn’t and never can be exhaustive. But as with any teens’ issue, openness and honesty about the problems and potential pitfalls is more than half the battle.


Ask your teenager what goes on:

  • Initiate discussions about what worries their peers have about things.
  • Don’t be frightened to comment with your views.
  • Show them this blog post or the previous one on this subject.
  • Ask them what they think.

As with many things, teens can lack a clear moral compass on the issue of sexting. We owe it to them to help provide one. Locating this in a context of concern for their welfare and protection is perhaps the best route to take…
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More to come…

In their qualitative study of sexting amongst young people, the NSPCC established 7 key findings. Here they are:

NSPCC sexting findings


Some of these specific issues will feature in future posts. If you can’t wait, you can read the study now by clicking here.

What do you think?

  • Have you had an experience of helping a young person deal with sexting? 
  • What would your advice be to young people or indeed to parents, carers and professionals?

Please contribute to this discussion by adding your own thoughts and experiences. You can  leave a comment by scrolling down, or just click here.

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© Jonny Matthew 2013 – with additional material from

(updated March 2017)