Talking to your child about sexting can be hard to navigate. Here are our top tips to help get the conversation started.
For children at this age (unless there is a pressing reason to talk specifically about nude images), it is best to start an open dialogue with young kids about themes like healthy relationships, consent and respect early on. Be cognizant of role modelling what a respectful relationship looks like at home between yourself and your partner, and recognise and use examples to explain positive behavior expectations in your everyday life when they happen. Ask for your child's interpretation of what happened in certain instances, and break down what made that a respectful relationship moment.
Having difficult conversations isn’t easy for anyone, but there are a couple of tips that can help keep things on track:
Talk in "feelings" about people they know in your own household, e.g. “It makes me feel happy about myself when Dad tells me I look beautiful”, or, “When you borrowed your sister's book I felt really proud that you took extra special care of it for her.”
At this age, kids may have heard the terms nudes or sexting or could have even viewed pornography in their travels, and it is important to understand that it is normal for them to be curious about what it means. It’s important not to ignore these issues because they are awkward, and understand that by addressing them in an age-appropriate way you are helping your child navigate some of the more complex themes they will encounter when they are away from home.
You could open a conversation by saying "sending a nude picture or looking at pornography online is something adults do, but it can give you the wrong idea about sex and relationships. If you want to learn more, I can get some books for you, and we can look for some information for kids about this together online. We can always talk more about it if you have more questions."
Explain the purpose of the conversation. It is important to you and your family that you are teaching them to develop the ability to understand and interpret situations by sorting fact from fiction.
Depending on the reason you want to have this discussion (following an incident or for general interest), deciding on a designated time for the discussion with a loose timeframe to manage expectations can be helpful. By formalising these types of conversations over important concepts, teens will take things more seriously and won’t feel ambushed. If a negative incident has occurred, you need to address it quickly as a parent, not a friend, and while it is important to minimise judgement and remain curious, it is vital you convey that these incidents and behaviours are taken seriously by your family.
Remember to find opportunities for praise by acknowledging that the conversation may be awkward, but that you appreciate they are willing to talk to you.
Like it or not, the sharing of intimate images is often seen by teens as a 21st century way of exploring their sexual identity and establishing depth and trust in their relationships. This is understandable in many ways, however, there are two obvious looming risks to focus on when discussing this sort of behaviour:
While your teen may feel they know and trust a person they are sending images to, they simply can’t be certain that their intimate image or video won’t be forwarded. Talk to them about their long-term goals, plans and prospects and how an image like that might impact them if it surfaced. Discuss with them how relationships change and evolve over time, and ask how they would feel if a person they broke up with still had that intimate image. It’s also helpful to discuss some alternatives to nudes, or look at apps like “Send This Instead” if they need some quick-fire responses that allow them to say no without the awkwardness.
If the conversation isn’t progressing well, try writing to each other. It can be surprisingly helpful.