As a parent, it can be difficult to believe that your child may engage or has engaged in self/peer exploitation (sexting). We want to help parents manage this growing social challenge by providing guidance on ways to talk to your teen about this issue, possibly to prevent this from happening, along with providing information on what to do if your child is negatively impacted by peers sharing a sexual picture or video.
Having regular conversations with your teenager about the risks associated with using technology to experiment sexually is very important in increasing the chances of making safer online decisions.
Use media stories about this issue to engage in a conversation with your teen.
It can be very difficult to get teenagers to open up about things that are going on in their lives, especially if it involves sexuality and dating relationships. An effective way to talk about this issue (and others) is to use real life stories from the media involving other teens. Seize the opportunity to discuss the risks and what could have been done differently. Your teenager is less likely to become defensive when the scenario is not personally about her/him. This can creatively open the door for your child to weave in something that has happened to her/him or one of her/his peers.
Discuss the difference between healthy relationships and unhealthy relationships.
Remind your teen that pressure from a boyfriend/girlfriend to engage in sexual conversations or share sexual images/videos does not constitute a caring relationship. Healthy relationships involve respect, dignity, honesty, trust, kindness, listening, acceptance, and loyalty.
Explain the importance of establishing and respecting personal boundaries.
The information your teen has shared as well as the information others have shared with your teen should be protected and handled with respect (i.e. not shared with others). Emphasize that this continues to apply once a relationship has come to an end.
Discuss problems that may arise from sharing private and sexual information.
Once information is sent, it can be easily misused. This may include the recipient showing it to friends, sending or posting it online, or using it to manipulate the other person (e.g. to engage in further sexual activity).
Boy threatened after performing sex acts on webcam
A 15-year-old boy was asked to perform sex acts on live cam with “a girlfriend”. After he agreed to the request, the boy was threatened to produce additional videos, with the threat that the video would be posted online for his peers to see if he didn’t agree to the demands.
Fake social media friend steals nudes and shares them online
An individual convinced a 16-year-old into believing they were online friends. The individual then got ahold of the 16-year-old’s “nudes” from one of her social networking accounts and made them available for everyone to see on different sites. The individual also created fake online accounts using the girl’s name and nude photos, posting the shots on Twitter and Snapchat, as well as sending them to the girl’s family members.
Sexted images shared among peers
A 14-year-old girl shared topless photos of herself with a 13-year-old boy. The boy then sent the photos to one of his friends and the photos continued to spread onwards among peers. The photos were distributed to multiple people via various apps and instant messaging platforms.
Sexted images followed by peer harassment
A 15-year-old girl shared semi-nude and nude photos of herself with her boyfriend via text message. Her boyfriend sent the photos to others who saved the images on their phones. Since that time, the girl has been receiving phone calls and voicemails from other youth telling her to kill herself.
Sexted images posted online after breakup resulting in harassing contact from strangers
A 17-year-old youth took nude and semi-nude photos of herself for her boyfriend. After the relationship ended, the boy sent the photos to his buddies, who then shared the shots with other friends and posted them on various websites. The 17-year-old girl now often receives requests from unknown individuals on Skype, Facebook, and others requesting things from her or insulting her.
Discuss ways to get out of uncomfortable situations.
Teach your teenager how to get out of unwanted conversations and/or relationships. Some direct ways of getting out of uncomfortable situations include refusing to do something by saying “I don’t want to” or “No thanks” or discontinuing contact by not responding to messages, and deleting or blocking the person as a contact. Indirect ways of ending a conversation include making excuses such as “I have to go out with my family” or blaming parents “My mom checks my computer randomly and would ground me.”
Discuss the importance of seeking your help if things have gone too far.
Explain the importance of seeking your help without the fear of her/him getting into trouble. Reinforce that it’s never too late to ask for help, even if s/he had made a mistake or is embarrassed about what has happened. Emphasize with your child that her/his safety is your number one priority.
Examples of when a situation has gone too far:
- When s/he is unsure about the communication with someone and feels like s/he has made a mistake.
- When an individual is making lewd and offensive comments towards her/him.
- When a situation becomes uncomfortable, excessive, stressful or scary.
- When intimate pictures or videos are shared without consent from the person in the picture/video.
- When s/he is being threatened or blackmailed.
Discuss the Canadian laws that intersect with this issue.
Child pornography is any naked or semi-naked sexual picture of a person under 18, or of a person under 18 engaged in a sex act. It is illegal to view, take, keep, send, or post such pictures or videos.
Non-consensual distribution of an intimate image
The non-consensual distribution of an intimate image involves someone having a sexual/intimate image of another person that was created in private circumstances, and that person knowingly posts it online or shares it with someone else knowing that the person in the image would not consent to that (or being reckless about whether they would consent to it). A person who engages in this behaviour could be charged.
See our section on the Law for other Criminal Code offences that may be involved in these type of situations.
Talk about the risks of doing something sexual over live cam.
Talk to your teenager about the risk of doing something sexual over live cam. Reinforce that:
- It is easy for someone to record what a person is doing over live cam – don’t be fooled by thinking it is live and therefore “no big deal”.
- It is not difficult to “live stream” pre-recorded content. A person may think s/he is talking to someone in real-time but the other person is actually streaming video that was recorded previously and it can easily be a recording of a different person (real person is an adult but the pre-recording is of a teenage girl).
- Unless the person is known offline, there is no way of verifying who is on the other end of the webcam.
- S/he should trust their instincts, be skeptical and cautious. If the person your youth is communicating with on live cam is not visible (e.g. “I am having problems with my webcam today – that is why you aren’t seeing me.”), that person may be trying to hide her/his identity.
“Things don’t go wrong and break your heart so you can become bitter and give up. They happen to break you down and build you up so you can be all that you are intended to be.”
— Charlie Jones