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Sexting advice for parents

Sexting is sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit images, messages and photographs.

These messages are usually sent using mobiles, tablets, smartphones or laptops - any device that allows you to share media and messages.

Sexting can include:

  • naked pictures or 'nudes'
  • 'underwear shots'
  • sexual or 'dirty pics'
  • rude text messages or videos

Advice for parents

In the 1970’s a law was created to stop adults from possessing images of anyone under the age of 18 who are naked or who were being abused, these images are called child abuse images. 

Many things have changed since the 1970’s including technology, but this law still remains. That means anyone who takes, sends, shares or possesses any image of someone under the age of 18 who is naked or semi-naked is breaking the law.

Although sexting is illegal, the police will always help young people and safeguard them if they are involved in any types of sexting. If a young person sends an image, and it the issue gets out of hand it is advised that they talk to a trusted adult straight away.

Parents should also be aware that their child’s school or college have powers to deal with incidents of sexting. Schools have the powers to deal with some incidents of sexting without involving the police. However, in some cases they have to report it to the police and/or other agencies, if they are concerned, but they will be able to help you and your child.

Some incidents of sexting should be reported to the police for different reasons. The police will always help you and your child.

Dorset Police have to record any incidents of sexting that is reported to us in line with National Crime Recording Standards.

What happens after this point depends on the situation itself.

If there are no ‘aggravating’ factors involved. This means the sexting your child has done does not involve any of the following:

  • There is not a big age difference between the people sending and receiving the images
  • They haven’t been pressurised or blackmailed into sending images
  • They haven’t been involved in incidents of sexting or other relevant offences before
  • No one involved is under the age of 13
  • No one involved is over the age of 18
  • There isn’t an intent to harm you and there is no violence involved
  • No one is making any money or profit from the images
  • There isn’t any signs of anyone being groomed

If this is the case the police have the power to use something called ‘Outcome 21’. Outcome 21 means the police have recorded the incident on a police system but will not be taking any further action in this case. Information and support will be provided to you and your child.

Outcome 21 means that your child does not have a criminal record, but it does mean that your child’s information is on a policing system.

If your child does not have any other relevant offences/ incidents against them on a policing system, it is highly unlikely that this would be disclosed on a Disclosure and Barring Service check when they were applying for a job or university for example.

This recorded incident (on its own) will not stop travel to different countries.

On the other hand, if there are ‘aggravating’ factors that can be involved. These factors are:

  • There is a big age difference between the people sending and receiving the images
  • You have been blackmailed or pressurised into sending the image
  • You have been involved in incidents of sexting or other relevant offences before
  • Someone involved is under the age of 13
  • Someone involved is over the age of 18
  • There is a intent to cause harm or violence is involved
  • Someone is making money or profit from the image
  • There is signs of someone being groomed

If this happens the police will investigate as they would any other crime. The outcome of this will depend on the investigation.

It is important for parents to make their child aware of the risks of sexting by having an open and honest conversation about it.

Although it can be embarrassing for some young people to talk to any adult about issues like this, it is important to have these conversations to help protect young people.

There are numerous resources available for education on sexting (youth produced sexual imagery), CSE and other sexual content available here. 

For advice about how to talk to children about the risks of sexting - and what you can do to protect them visit the NSPCC here.

Parents, please make sure you children are aware of the below:

  • Not everyone is sexting, even if they say they are
  • Once an image is sent (or even taken in some cases) it is out there forever
  • Not everyone who you meet online is who they say they are
  • It is illegal to take, send, share or possess any image of someone under the age of 18 who is naked or semi-naked
  • If they do sext or they get asked for sexual images, videos or texts they should speak to a trusted adult.

It is important that you stay calm. It is a positive thing that your child has come to speak to you or another trusted adult they know.

It can be embarrassing for some young people to talk about things like this, but it’s important that they get help and support straight away.

Make sure to speak to your child and try to establish what has happened and where the image or video has gone.

Ask your child to speak to the receiver of the image or video and have an honest conversation. Ask them to delete the image and if it’s gone onto any social media platforms to take these down straight away.

  • Do not take any copies of the image, forward it on to anyone else or delete any images
  • You should confiscate any devices which contain any images until you have further advice
  • Speak to your child’s school or college as they should be able to provide advice and guidance
  • You can also call the NSPCC and ask for advice
  • If you feel there is immediate risk to the young person, contact the police straight away online

If your child is under 18 and an indecent or nude picture of them is posted online, that's illegal. Parents or their children can contact the website or social media site directly or make a report about what’s happened to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), who will speak to the website to try and remove it.

If your child has lost control of a sexual image ask them to contact Childline. Together, Childline and the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) will try to get the image removed. Alternatively you can make a report direct to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) on their behalf.

Childline have made this process easier by joining up with YOTI, an app that safely uses a young person's ID to confirm who they are. Children will need to download YOTI and then use it to take a picture of either a passport or a provisional driving license. YOTI will not store images of the ID. 

Childline provides instructions on how to do this here

Your child will need to provide a link to the image. But don't keep a copy of the image for evidence after they've sent the link as it’s illegal to share or store child abuse images.

There is helpful advice and tips for young people who have been involved in incidents of sexting in the booklet 'So you got naked online' which parents can show their children.

For more information and support on sexting please visit any of the below sites:


The NSPCC has information, advice and a helpline about sexting as well as lots of other topics.

  • Phone: 0808 800 500
  • Email: help@nspcc.org.uk

UK Safer Internet Centre

The UK Safer Internet Centre have produced checklists on using social networks safely.

Parent info

Parent info provides information and advice to parents from expert organisations on topics ranging from sex and relationships, mental health and online safety. This content includes sexting.

The Internet Watch Foundation

The Internet Watch Foundation can help get sexual or naked images of children and young people removed from the internet.