Sexting and young people: the parent's view

Topics: Online safety Parenting

Exploring parents' knowledge of sexting, and the help they need to support their children

Through Childline we frequently hear from children about sexting (the sharing of sexual or nude images or videos online or through mobile phones).

Many young people who contact Childline tell us they feel too ashamed to speak to their parents. So we worked with FACTs International to carry out a survey of parents and carers, finding out what they know about sexting and how they can be better supported to help their children with the issues it raises.

Key findings

The research was carried out between February and April 2016. Interviews with 32 parents and carers were carried out to inform the survey questions. This was followed by an online survey of 1000 parents and carers from across the UK, which was available 4-19 April 2016.

All parents who took part were over the age of 18, lived in the UK, and had a child/children in their care aged 11 to 17 who had access to a smart phone, tablet, or computer. Participants were asked to focus on the creation and sharing of sexual videos and images, rather than the sending of sexual messages.

Key findings were:

  • 73% of parents believe that sexting is always harmful.
  • 39% of parents are concerned that their child may become involved in sexting in the future.
  • there is a lack of clarity regarding the law around sexting: half of parents are unaware that it is illegal for a child to take a naked or sexual image of themselves and 28% do not know that it is illegal for a child to send a naked or sexual image to a peer.
  • 86% of parents would seek help if they found out that their child had sent a sexual image to another young person and it had been shared on the internet.
  • parents would be most likely to turn to the police, their child’s school, or the Centre for Exploitation and Online Protection if their child was involved in a sexting incident.
  • however, only 50% of parents are confident that they would be able to access the right support in this situation.
  • 42% of parents have spoken to their child about sexting at least once, but 19% do not intend to ever have a conversation about it.
  • when talking about sexting, parents are least comfortable having conversations about the law around sexting and what could be done if an image of their child was shared. This is potentially because they lack knowledge on these issues.
  • 83% of parents have never received information about sexting and 84% of parents have never looked for it. Despite this, 50% want to learn more about sexting and the most popular ways to do so are through their children’s school and online resources.
  • in particular, parents would most like to receive information about healthy relationships and the pressures that young people may face; as well as tips on how to start conversations about sexting.


"It could lead to serious problems such as bullying, sexual assaults, suicide in the extreme."

(Mother/Father, Northern Ireland, Child age 14)

"Young people often do things without thinking of the consequences. If an image is circulated it can cause embarrassment for them, bullying, and cause longer term social issues of depression etc."

(Mother, East of England, Child age 17)