To better understand
Sexting is sending intimate, sexually explicit messages, photos, or videos of yourself to one or more people. Don’t panic! Not all teens are sexting, but they all risk being exposed to it. Which is why it’s important to talk to them about sexting and digital technology in general and explain what a healthy and equal intimate relationship looks like.
For some teens, consensual sexting can be a way to explore their sexuality, develop intimacy with their partner, or test their powers of seduction. Teens can also sext as a way to get attention or reactions. Some may do it to impress or get a laugh out of their friends, without really considering the consequences. Unfortunately, some teens also send sexts because they’re being pressured or threatened by a partner or because they’re afraid the other person will be angry if they don’t. Some teens may also receive unsolicited or unexpected sexts that can make them feel uncomfortable or upset.
Sexting isn’t without risk and can have lasting consequences for a teen. First, once they hit send on a message, picture or video, they no longer have control over that content. Even if they initially trusted the other person, the explicit material can’t be unsent. Second, there’s always a risk the original recipient(s) will share or send out the sexts to a larger audience. Non-consensual sexting is a form of abuse and sexual violence. It’s important to educate teens about the consequences and the importance of not sharing intimate pictures or videos of others. Sexts can also be used to intimidate or blackmail the sender. See the fact sheet on sextortion for more information. Finally, by sharing or resharing sexually explicit pictures or videos of themselves or other minors, teens risk facing criminal charges for producing, possessing and distributing child pornography.
Finding out your teen has been sexting can be very upsetting for a parent. And it can have major repercussions on the teens involved and their families. But parents can still play a role in preventing sexting and its potential fallout for teens.
• A study done by the Équipe de recherche sur la sécurité et la violence dans les écoles québécoises en 2017 et 2019 found that approximately 1 in 5 Québec teens from secondary 1 to secondary 5 (grade 7 to 11) have been asked for an explicit photo or video of themselves.
• This is the case for 1 in 5 girls (20%) and 1 in 20 boys (5%).
• Of the teens who were asked, nearly a quarter agreed to do so, and more boys (43.7%) than girls (16.4%). Around 5% of teens have sent a sext without being asked.
To better support
- Give your teen advice about how to use digital technology in a way that respects themselves and others.
- Use news reports or ads as a springboard for discussion with your teen. Here’s a video you could watch with them: https://pasobligedetoutpartager.info/en/.
- Tell your teen about the risks of sharing explicit pictures or videos of themselves.
- Encourage your teen not to share any sexts they receive with others. Explain the legal and social consequences of non-consensual sexting.
- Talk to your teen about consent and the importance of respecting their partner’s boundaries. Sexting someone without their consent or sharing a partner’s sext without their consent is unacceptable; in fact, it’s a form of abuse.
- Explain the legal consequences of sexting to your teen (sending and resharing). By law, this is considered producing, possessing and distributing child pornography.
- Help your teen to tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. In a healthy relationship, one partner doesn’t pressure or blackmail the other. Sexting is not a way to prove you trust someone.
- Talk to your teen about the importance of respecting their privacy and other people’s privacy.
- Let your teen know they can trust you by encouraging them to confide in you if they have problems or concerns.
- If you find out someone shared a sext your teen sent without their consent, it’s important not to blame them. Be supportive and make sure they get the help they need.
- Tell your teen how to react when faced with non-consensual sexting (e.g., don’t reshare the sext, offer support to the person in the pictures or videos, express their disapproval).
- Create a receptive, open environment at home so your teen will be more likely to confide in you when needed.
If you find out your teen is involved in sexting, listen to them, support them (e.g., take down a photo and/or a video that was posted, report it to the police, call the school, get them professional help). Above all, don’t be judgmental—your teen needs your support! Do you need help? Visit https://aidezmoisvp.ca/app/en/parent_info-support and contact your local police department.
- Not all teens are sexting, but they all risk being exposed to it.
- While sexting can be a way for teens to explore their sexuality and create intimacy with a partner, it comes with many psychological, social and legal risks that teens need to understand.
- It’s important to be there for teens as they learn how to use digital technology in a respectful way and navigate healthy, equal relationships.
Resources and practical tools
1. For support:
Do you have concerns about your teen’s development or behaviour? Do not hesitate to reach out to a support worker or a healthcare professional:
To report a situation of abuse and get a picture of yourself taken down from the Internet, visit https://needhelpnow.ca/app/en/ and contact your local police department.
2. To learn more:
- In Québec, the SEXTO project offers tools and information for teen and parents;
- Canadian Centre for Child Protection: Helping families. Protecting children;
- Parent line: technology theme (French only)
- Tel-jeunes: Sexting.
Latest updates: december 2022