Sexting and sending nudes

Advice to help you understand the risks and support your child if they've been sending, sharing or receiving nude images.

Coronavirus lockdown and schools closures may mean children are spending more time online and using apps or social media sites more to talk to friends or others online. Under new social distancing rules young people who are dating or in relationships will be speaking to their partners online, which could lead to more pressure for them to send nudes.

Other young people may want to explore more risky behaviour, either because they’re feeling bored or as a way of keeping in touch with others. Some young people experiencing online grooming or abuse may also be sending or receiving nudes or explicit content from people they don’t know. We’ve got advice to help you talk to your child about sexting and keep them safe.

What is sexting or sending nudes?

Sexting or sending nudes is when someone shares a sexual message, naked or semi-naked image, video or text message with another person. It doesn’t have to be a nude image of them and could be an image of someone else.

Young people can send nudes using phones, tablets and laptops and can share them across any app, site or game, including during a livestream. Many young people also share them on social media channels.

We’ve got advice to help if you’re worried your child might have been sending or receiving nude images, or if you want to talk to them about the risks.                            

There are lots of reasons why children and young people may want to send sexual messages or naked or semi-naked images or videos to someone.

These include:

    • peer pressure
    • being blackmailed, harassed or threatened
    • to increase their self-esteem
    • to prove their sexuality
    • feeling worried about being seen as ‘not sexy’, or ‘shy’ if they don’t
    • feeling confident about themselves – and wanting to share their confidence and pride with others
    • feeling like they ‘owe’ their boyfriend or girlfriend and being made to feel guilty if they don’t
    • being in love with someone and fully trusting them
    • they’re in a long distance or online relationship and want to have sexual relationship.

What are the risks of sexting?

It's important to talk to your child about the risks of sexting and let them know they can come to you if someone's pressuring them to send or share nudes, or if they're worried about something. Some of the risks of sexting or sending and sharing nudes for children and young people are: 

    • losing control of the images, videos or messages and how they're shared. Once something's shared online it's public and can be saved or copied by others.
    • blackmail, bullying and harm. Young people can have their photos, messages or videos shared without their consent or be bullied about them. This can lead to them feeling difficult emotions like distress or embarrassment and shame.

Worried about a child?

If you're worried about something a child or young person may have experienced online, you can contact the NSPCC helpline for free support and advice. Call us on 0808 800 5000 or contact us online.

Children can contact Childline any time to get support themselves.

Get support

Supporting your child if they've been sexting

If your child's been sending, sharing or receiving sexual messages, photos or videos, you may feel upset, angry or confused. It's natural to feel like this. Your children may also feel anxious talking about what's happened, but there are ways you can reassure them. 

Mother and daughter on sofa togetherYou can help by: 

    • trying not to shout at them, or make them feel like it’s their fault. They’re probably worried and need your help and advice.
    • reassuring them and offering support – remind them they can always talk to you, another trusted adult, or Childline.
    • asking open questions such as "what happened?" rather than asking "why have you done it", as this may stop them from opening up to you.
    • talking to them about how to treat others online and what is and isn’t appropriate online behaviour.
    • reminding them that people might not always be who they say they are online, so they should be careful about talking to anyone they don't know.
    • telling their school, if your child agrees. Schools can keep an eye on the situation and help stop images or videos being shared. They can also support any other children who've been affected or have a counselling service children can self-refer to.
    • exploring the social networks, apps and games they’re using together. 

If you think your child needs more support or if you’re worried they’re behaving in a sexually inappropriate way, you can also speak to your GP or you may have community services near where you live.

If an adult asked for or received naked images of your child, or if you have any concerns about child sexual exploitation or grooming, contact the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP).

Remember you can contact the NSPCC helpline to speak with a counsellor if you're worried about a child or need further advice on keeping children safe.

Reporting a sexual image or video

Some of the ways you can report a sexual image or video are: 

    • contact CEOP if you're worried about a child sending naked images, videos or sexual messages.
    • Worried about how to support a young person who has had a sexual image or video of themselves shared online? If they’re under 18, they can use Childline and the Internet Watch Foundation's discreet Report Remove tool to see if it can be taken down. Young people can get support from Childline throughout the process.
    • make a report on the social media platform where the image or video is shared. Use Net Aware, in partnership with O2, to learn how to do this on different social networks, apps and games.

The law says that creating or sharing sexual images or videos of a child under 18 is illegal, even if the person doing it is a child. This includes: 

    • sending sexual messages to a child
    • a child taking an explicit photo or video of themselves or a friend
    • sharing an explicit image or video of a child, even if it's shared between children of the same age
    • having, downloading or storing an explicit image or video of a child, even if the child gave their permission for it to be taken. 
    • sharing an explicit image or video of a child is illegal, even if it's shared between children of the same age. Sharenting or adults sharing a photo of a child to raise awareness is also illegal.

If sexting is reported to the police, they make a record but may not take any formal action against a young person. You can speak to them if you're unsure or worried.

More support for parents and young people

    • CEOP's Thinkuknow has online safety advice for parents, children and young people, including short videos to help parents understand why children 'sext' and how to talk to them about it. 
    • Children under 18 can visit Childline for advice on sexting and online safety. Young people can also use the Zipit app to send a funny comeback if someone's pressuring them to send naked images.