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  • Educate instead of interdicting.
  • Having and reinforcing online boundaries contributes to a healthy use of the internet.
  • When sexting, talk to people you know in person and don’t forget to ask for consent first.
  • Risks of sexting include cyberbullying, revenge porn, sexual predators, detachment of sexuality from physicality, legal issues, and others.
  • Instead of demonizing sexting, shifting the focus on learning how to do it in a consented way and how to be aware of the possible risks could be more beneficial to teens.


The digitalised world that we live in, pushes us to adapt to the constantly changing safety parameters on online security. While the internet is an attractive resource, offering access to information and entertainment, knowing how to protect yourself and your interests is a valuable skill. When teaching about the use of the internet to children/teens, teaching about online security, cyberbullying, sexting, and other risks of personal exposure represent a priority in a healthy use of the internet.

Knowing about the advantages and the downsides of the internet can help children/teens balance the information and make choices about their online activity.

5.7.2. DEVELOPMENT OF THE TOPIC Internet is forever

One of the first things that children/teens need to know before engaging in any online activities is that the internet is forever. Anything they search, post or comment on will be saved somewhere in the database, exposing them to the risk that at some point it might come out in a certain way and put them in a vulnerable position. This goes for shared pictures, personal information they gave when they created an account for a website or any random message, they sent to a friend through an app. Everything is saved, stored and used in a way or another, regardless of if it is for marketing purposes (like targeted ads), for customer analysis or any other type of data analysis. That information can be either used against them (for example through bullying) or to manipulate them into behaving in a certain way or buying something they would be convinced they need. Through behavioural psychology, social media creators could be using specific colours, language, images, or movements to subtly manipulate the viewer into making a certain decision. Even though this is an oversimplification of how the internet works, the idea that every single input you provide is used for something can make you think twice before wanting to search or post anything.

Cyberbullying, cyber-stalking, obscenity, phishing, misinformation and piracy are just a few of the internet related dangers. Teaching about privacy means understanding these dangers. When it comes to unknown situations, what makes them terrifying or perceived as a threat usually have a focus on the lack of understanding. When we don’t understand something, we cannot protect ourselves from it. Same happens with children/teens.

It is bold to assume that they will listen to teachers/educators telling them that the internet is dangerous without explaining why and how those dangers can possibly harm them. By using age-appropriate language, you could try to explain how having any kind of online activity might affect their real life.

You could start by explaining how online privacy works, how they can use safer ways to navigate the internet and how sharing personal information on websites or with people they do not know can affect them. Try giving concrete examples without demonising the internet. While the internet can be a great resource, the values it has (and the power of being positive/negative) lies in the hands of the user.

If you would like them to be cautious but not scared to not use the internet at all, you could try a few of the following things:

  • Get a camera coverage for laptops/computers.
  • Check out a few online pages together with them.
  • Have a talk about which kind of information is safer to give (for example avoid address, bank account info etc.).
  • Show them how to recognize reliable information sources.
  • Participate/organise workshops or activities that teach you how to have a safer online activity (especially on social media).

All of these situations can have an even more harming impact when talking about sexting. (Lack of) Privacy

Sexting is the activity of sending sexually explicit content over private messages or over the internet. It refers to photos, videos, and messages (written and audio) (Priory Group). This practice has become widespread with the evolution of smartphones, becoming a normalised teen behaviour. However, more often than not, people are not completely aware of the possible risks that sexting involves.

Risks associated with sexting:

  • Sharing explicit content without consent (messages, audio-visual content)

One of the most common risks associated with sexting is the spreading of the content without the person’s consent. This can be done through forwarding messages, screenshotting without consent and/or posting the content online.

  • Revenge porn

Revenge porn is the act of an ex-partner sharing explicit sexual content of you without having your consent. It has the purpose to cause embarrassment and distress and can happen after a separation, having revenge as a starting point (Psych Central, 2018).

  • Cyberbullying/sexual harassment

Cyberbullying is the use of online communication to bully or harass a person through intimidating them, sharing negative or hateful content and threats. People going through cyberbullying may experience lower self-esteem, isolation, assuming a different online identity (creating a fake image of their life), have negative emotional responses (fear, vulnerability, frustration etc.) and have self-harming tendencies.

According to a study carried out by the Cyberbullying Research Centre in the US, on a sample of 13–17-year-olds, 42% of the teens stated that they have experienced cyberbullying in their life. Moreover, adolescent girls were more likely to experience it (50,9%) than adolescent boys (37.8%) (Patchin, 2021).

Not only is this a possible risk, but it is also more likely to happen to people who do not identify as males, making it part of the gender inequality issue too as these people can be more vulnerable and more exposed to threats like this.

  • Detachment of sexuality from physicality (emotional influence)

By investing a lot of time inside of the digitalised world, a risk of online activity and sexting specifically can refer to the perception of sexuality in relationship to physicality (Smith, 2021). When it comes to discovering one’s own sexuality, the practices one chooses influence the emotional connection that is built between the people involved and thus their perception of sexuality and intimacy. An increased amount of sexting can lead to the detachment of sexuality from physicality, possibly making teens not associate physical touch with sexual desire or sexuality. This can shape their entire perception on how to build healthy intimate relationships with their partners and can influence them throughout their life.

  • Sexual predators

Sexual predators are people who seek out sexual contact in an abusive or predatory manner. Sexual predators may have committed sexual offenses such as harassment, assault, rape or any other sexual activity that did not involve having the consent of the other people involved. Sexting can facilitate the context for sexual predators through catfishing, the practice of assuming a different identity, and through offering the predator an online safety, considering that they can lie about their location and identity.

  • Legal issues

Due to the rapid evolution of sexting, recognising consensual sexting from non-consensual sexting and child pornography has become a priority issue for law enforcement. Through sexting, especially to people they do not know in person, children/teens risk becoming subjects of online sexual exploitation.

When explaining these risks, regardless if it is in a family or a school environment, the idea is that teens become aware of the risks, not that they would be frightened to go on the internet or to do sexting. You could try to transmit the idea that taking precautions and openly communicating about what is happening in their online activity (while still respecting their privacy) can be in their benefit. Explaining what measures they could take when situations like this occur could keep them safer while also respecting their privacy. Try to balance the talk and also approach the fun and exciting part of sexting, learning about your likes and dislikes and building intimacy with your partners. Consent

Peer pressure can drastically influence someone’s behaviour, especially when it comes to social integration and having the feeling of belonging. Take a moment to show children/teens that it is okay to stand out of the group and not do something that you are not comfortable with. Even though this is something that applies at all ages, children/teens are more vulnerable to it because they are most likely going through their self-discovery process during those years and are trying to find a group that they can belong to.

Explaining what consent is and that they should not give it if they do not feel comfortable can go a long way. Consent is a two-way street. You are deciding if and when you give it but also consider how to ask for it.

When it comes to sexting, asking for consent can look like this:

  • Would it be okay to send a picture/video?
  • Would you like me to continue?
  • Are you comfortable with x?
  • How does x sound for you?

These are just a few examples of how you can make sure that the person you are talking to is also comfortable with the direction that the conversation is taking. Teaching teens about consent when it comes to sexting also means teaching them how to make sure they ask for consent. Focus on explaining that sending explicit content without consent is invading the other person’s privacy and that building intimacy with someone requires trust, regardless of if this is happening online or offline.

You can read more about consent on the topic 5.6.


O. is a 14-year-old who has an account on a social media app. That’s where they met G. Although O. and G. live in the same country, they are in different cities and never met each other in person. They saw pictures with each other and started talking online until they build a certain level of intimacy. That’s when G. started to send O. messages with a sexually explicit content and was encouraging O. to do the same. O. did not feel comfortable in doing it and G. started mocking them, telling them that if they would send sexually explicit content they would just be like any other teenager.

In this case, there are several risks involved. O. could be subject of peer pressuring, cyberbullying, sexual harassment and if the person at the other end of the conversation would not be who they are claiming to be, the risks could involve sexual predators, child pornography or other dangerous situations.

As an educator, teaching about precautions and safety practices can help children/teens to learn how to analyse the situation and how to ask for help. It’s important to remind them about the validity of their boundaries and about the fact that they deserve their boundaries to be respected by others.

5.7.4. BEST PRACTICES Establishing a climate of trust

Establishing a climate of trust with your children/teens can encourage them to come to you in the case of possibly dangerous situations. Try to openly talk about online security but answering their questions and showing them how to navigate the internet in a safer way. While doing this, try to respect their privacy too.

Encourage them to be conscious about the information they give away and more importantly, to whom they give out this information. Encourage them to only talk to people they’ve met in person and talk to them about privacy and intimacy. Discuss instead of avoiding

Discuss the topic and find common ground and practices that can help both the children and you as a role model to them in keeping them safe. Explain the risks of sexting without demonising the act but rather focusing on the possibility of danger. If you disregard the action completely and present it as something you think is completely wrong, you might not be helping children to stay away from it, but you could most probably be taking a learning opportunity away from them as they might not come to you in case something goes wrong.


Patchin, J. W. (2021). 2019 Cyberbullying Data. Cyberbullying Research Centre. Retrieved from https://cyberbullying.org/2021-cyberbullying-data.

Psych Central (2018). What Is Revenge Porn?  Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/blog/what-is-revenge-porn#1.

Smith, D. (2021). What are the risks associated with sexting? Dtek Customs. Retrieved from https://www.dtekcustoms.com/what-are-the-risks-associated-with-sexting/.

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