Tips to Talk to Your Child about Sexting

12 Sep 2018

Sexting is the sending, receiving or forwarding of sexually explicit content of oneself or others, usually through messages, photos, and videos.

Is sexting illegal?

Since sexting via digital devices is only a recent phenomenon, with online dating apps like Tinder becoming more popular, there are no laws on ‘sexting’ in Singapore at the moment. However, there are laws on pornography that make it illegal to store or share pornographic content, which could be applied to sexts as well.

There are also laws that act as a deterrent to stop youth and children from being sexually exploited. For example, the Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA) makes it illegal for anyone to try make children under the age of 16 perform any sexual act. If texts and photos sent to someone under 16 urge them to have sex, the child is protected by the law.

Is sexting dangerous?

There are risks to sharing any personal information online, and the same applies to sexting. Recently, several dangers of sexting have become more prominent, such as:

  • Pictures accidentally being viewed by someone else
  • Young people, especially men, making the material public to ‘show off’
  • Sexts being used as blackmail to coerce young people into other sexual acts
  • Releasing sexts as revenge after a break-up

I found sexts on my child’s phone. What can I do?

First, stay calm – you probably did not expect to find explicit content and it can be shocking and upsetting, but it is important to be calm so you can have an open and honest talk with your child. Approach them in a space that is comfortable and private, then ask them if you can speak to them about something sensitive. When you bring it up, they might be angry that you looked at their phone without permission, but keep the conversation focused on what you found. Consider these through your conversation:

  • Ask them what happened: if the photos are of your child, you can ask them, “Why did you think you had to take these?” and “Did someone ask you to take this photo?” and if it is of someone else, ask, “Did you ask someone to send this to you?” – don’t use an accusatory tone when asking, as it might make them less likely to answer
  • Tell them how you feel: if you open up about your shock, surprise, anger, or hurt at seeing the sexts, they might feel more comfortable opening up in return
  • Explain why you are uncomfortable: talk about how you think their relationships should be less risky at that age and the many potential consequences of sending and receiving sexts
  • Ask them to consider safer ways of expressing themselves in a relationship: have an open and frank conversation with them about their romantic or sexual relationships, what they should like, and the forms you are comfortable with these taking
  • Delete the sexts together: having explained the risks of keeping and sharing sexts, encourage them to delete the content off their digital devices
  • Keep their devices safe: if you are still concerned, you can install parental control apps on both your digital devices so that you can monitor their online activity

Someone is sharing my child’s personal photos. What can I do?

  • Don’t blame them: your child has a right to privacy and did not ask or give consent for the material to be shared so do not blame them; this includes questions and comments like ‘You brought this on yourself’ or ‘Why did you do that? That’s so stupid!’
  • Stay calm: as a parent, it is normal to feel angry that someone has done this to your child – but it is important to stay calm so as to support them through this
  • Support them: if they have come to you with this news, they need your support, so remind them that they are not alone, this was not their fault, and that you will support them no matter what
  • Ask your child what they want to do: your child might have steps in mind or they might not be ready to take any step, but talk to them and discuss the issue; it is crucial to come to a decision together so that they don’t feel like more things are happening that they cannot control
  • Save the evidence: if you see the photos anywhere, take screenshots and download the photos or videos for evidence
  • Report the material: most social media sites have the option to report offensive content
  • Go to the school: if the incident happened with another student at school, you can approach the school to help deal with the matter
  • Speak to their parents: if the incident involved another young person whose family you know it might be helpful to approach their parents directly with evidence of what happened
  • See a professional: sharing sexts is also a type of sexual harassment, so let your child know that they can speak to a case worker or counsellor at the Sexual Assault Crisis Centre (SACC)for legal advice and mental support
  • Go to the authorities: you can speak to the school counsellor or your child’s case worker at the SACC to better understand your options, and you can consider involving the police or a lawyer

I think I need professional help. Where can I go?

There are several organisations that can help you and your child in such a difficult situation. Here are some: