As a parent, it can be difficult to believe that your child may engage or has engaged in self/peer exploitation (sexting). We want to help parents manage this growing social challenge by providing guidance on ways to talk to your teen about this issue, possibly to prevent this from happening, along with providing information on what to do if your child is negatively impacted by peers sharing a sexual picture or video.

Offering and Getting Support

The circulation of sexual pictures/videos among peers and their distribution via the Internet can have short and long-term impacts on youth. The emotional effects will vary according to your adolescent’s personality, temperament, support systems, and resiliency. How you manage the situation is really important; bringing in others can also help your child through this potentially difficult time.

  • Your Support

    Consider the following:

    • This is a mistake and does not define your child.

      Errors in judgement such as this provide your child an opportunity to learn and grow.

    • Those involved need to take ownership for their actions.

      If your child is the one that shared the picture/video beyond what was intended, involve her/him in discussions about how s/he is going to fix it, prevent it from happening again and repair the relationship with the affected youth in the picture/video.

    • Consequences for the inappropriate behaviour need to be reasonable and fit the situation.

      While consequences may be a developmental fear of adolescents, it should not stop parents from instituting boundaries and limits (in a loving, supportive and communicative way) in response to a serious situation.

    • Discuss what represents healthy and respectful relationships.

      Developing a good understanding of healthy relationships will reduce the likelihood of this occurring again. Walking through the important qualities of a respectful relationship and how others deserve to be treated must be a part of the learning process.

    • Weave in reassuring messaging if your child is the one depicted in the picture/video.

      • Listen to your child without judgment. Reinforce that s/he is not alone – as her/his parent(s), you are there to listen to her/him. Use words such as “Tell me more about that,” followed by remaining quiet and listening carefully to her/his concerns.
      • Assist your child in moving past self-blame.
      • Advise your child that you are there to help her/him deal with the situation in a way that provides the dignity and respect s/he deserves. While this was a poor decision, it does not, in any way, justify what occurred.
      • Be optimistic and reinforce that your child will persevere.
      • Empower your child by encouraging positive self-talk and reframing how s/he may be viewing the incident.
      • Reinforce the importance of keeping good friends close by to help get through this. Friends can act as a buffer for your child from the harmful effects of self/peer exploitation and help her/him cope.
  • Your Child’s School

    Schools have a major role to play in this issue given that the results of this behaviour often include a significant negative impact upon the school environment, regardless of whether the behaviour occurred on school grounds. A good option is to let the school know about our School and Family Approaches to Intervention and Prevention – Addressing Self/Peer Exploitation Resource Guide. Learn more.

    A plan for addressing this can include restorative justice options as well as identifying a safe adult in the school (e.g. school counsellor) your child can turn to for help in managing peer issues.

    • Restorative Justice Examples

      • Provide the opportunity for amends to be made with the affected youth, helping her/him feel safe and gain closure.
      • Allow the acting-out youth to assess the impact of her/his behaviour, take responsibility for her/his actions and gain insight into the factors that contributed to her/his conduct.
  • Professional Support

    • Your family doctor can be a good starting point for accessing a referral for support.
    • A professional therapist may be necessary to support your child in managing the potential emotional impacts tied to sharing a sexual picture/video and possibly the broader impacts if the content is posted online.
    • Finding a therapist who understands the potential extent of the trauma associated with having content/information circulating on the Internet may be helpful in assisting your child process and move past what has occurred.
  • Your Child’s Friends

    Having at least one good friend can be a very important protective factor in helping your child deal with the impacts of a self/peer exploitation incident. In a situation where your child is the acting-out youth, identify friends that understand the seriousness of what has transpired, while at the same time can offer support through what may end being a difficult time (e.g. regret around what transpired).