Understanding sexting and empowering youth through parental guidance

As adolescents navigate the vast online landscape, they encounter various risks, with sexting emerging as a particularly prevalent concern. Sexting, the practice of sharing explicit messages or images via digital platforms, poses profound threats to the emotional, psychological, and even legal welfare of young individuals. By shedding light on the inherent dangers and consequences of sexting, the Romanian Safer Internet Centre aims to empower parents to initiate meaningful conversations and equip their children with the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate the digital realm safely and respectfully. 

Date 2024-05-03 Author Romanian Safer Internet Centre Topic media literacy/education, sexting Audience children and young people, parents and carers
Young People holding their phone

One of the greatest risks associated with sexting is the unauthorised sharing of photos and distributed materials. A photo or video sent via a device or the internet can easily be disseminated or posted online without the consent of the person who created or sent that image. This can lead to the spread of such images and expose the person depicted to the risk of harassment or even risks related to their professional and social life or their ability to develop relationships.  

Minors are particularly vulnerable to these risks because they may be unaware of the long-term consequences associated with sharing images and their potential lack of capacity to make informed decisions regarding the distribution of personal information. Sexting can have a long-term negative impact, extending beyond the sender alone. Adolescents may feel embarrassed or exposed, with the added risks of image redistribution. The consequences of sexting can even lead to cyberbullying and erode trust in their relationships.  

Sexting can cause a multitude of challenges for young people, including emotional and psychological harm, legal consequences, and damage to their reputations. When young people engage in sexting, they may feel pressured to share explicit images or messages to conform to peers' expectations, to impress potential partners or to explore their sexuality. This can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment, especially if the images or messages are shared without their consent. Once an explicit image or message is shared, it can be challenging to control who sees it or where it ends up. This can lead to bullying or harassment by peers, acquaintances, or individuals with whom they communicate online and in real life. In some cases, sexting can also lead to revenge porn, where explicit images or messages are shared without the victim's consent to humiliate or cause harm.  

The phenomenon of online sexual extortion (sextortion) is also a major concern. The Criminal Code defines extortion under Article 194 as "forcing a person, through violence or threat, to give, do, not do, or suffer something, if the act is committed to unjustly obtain a benefit, for oneself or another." Individuals who send images or messages with sexual content or in compromising poses expose themselves to the risk of being blackmailed to pay various sums of money or to be asked to send more intimate images under threat of disclosure or distribution of images over which the abuser already has control.  

By engaging in open dialogue, providing guidance, and cultivating a supportive environment, parents can empower their children to recognize and mitigate the risks associated with sexting, thereby safeguarding their well-being and preserving their dignity in the virtual sphere. 

Find more information about the work of the Romanian Safer Internet Centre, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline, and youth participation services, or find similar information for other Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.   

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