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Sexuality, Teens and Technology

Sexting: Teens and Technology

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​A Guide for Caregivers and Professionals

What is sexting?

  • Sexting is when people send or receive sexual pictures, messages, or videos through technology,​ e.g. cell phone, app, email, or webcam.
  • The word sextin​g comes from a combination of the words sex and text.
  • In Canada, about 25% of students in Grades 7 to 11 have received or sent a sext.
  • Sexting comes with lots of risks, and it’s important that your child understands these risks

Why might teens sext?

  • Many teens communicate by text.
  • Texting may be a comfortable way to develop relationships and explore sexuality. A teen might send a sext as a sign of trust.
  • It’s normal to develop sexual identity and have romantic relationships.

How can I talk about sexting?

Talk about sexting when you talk about healthy relationships, self-esteem, peer pressure, and sex. Try these questions to start talking:

  • Have you heard of sexting?
  • How do you feel about sexting?
  • Do you know anyone who has sent a sext?
  • What could you do if you get a sext?
  • What should you do if you’re asked to send a sext?
  • What could happen if you send a sext?

Things to tell your Teen

  • Sexting is a choice. You need to feel in control about what you send and receive.
  • Be kind and show respect. In the electronic world, act the same as you would when you’re face to face.
  • Never assume your messages or pictures will stay private. They may be copied, shared, or stored.
  • Say no when you’re not comfortable with what is happening. Talk to a safe adult about it.
  • Come up with a response for when you are asked to send a sext like “Sorry, I only practice safe sext”.
  • Think before you send. How will others react? Your friends, family, or future boss might see it.
  • Don’t forward. Sharing sexts may be against the law.

How can I help keep my teen safe?

  • Learn about new apps, social networking, and technology.
  • Talk about family values and set expectations about what is okay to share.
  • Set limits. Keep technology use in public areas like the kitchen, not in bedrooms. Limit hours for use and how many texts can be sent in a day.
  • Monitor accounts and know passwords. Follow your teens on social media and use parental controls.
  • Watch for warning signs like skipping activities or meals, losing or gaining weight, or a drop in grades.

What if pictures are posted online?

Contact the site(s) where the image has been posted and ask for it to be removed. Include this information:

  • say you’re the person in the picture
  • your age when the picture was taken (“I am under 18 years of age”)
  • say that you don’t​ want the content posted
  • the URL for the image

You or your child can report this to Canada’s tip line for online sexual exploitation of children at

What are the risks of sexting?

Pictures and messages that were considered private can be shared. Once in cyberspace, it can be hard to control who sees them or have them deleted.

The sharing of sexts can have negative effects on self-image, mental health, and relationships.

Creating sexual pictures of anyone younger than 18 years old (including yourself) is considered child pornography. This is against the law.

Sharing sexts not intended for others may be considered cyberbullying and may be against the law (e.g., child pornography, criminal harassment, luring a child, and uttering threats).

Sexting and the Law

It is illegal to:

  • Create sexual images/ videos of anyone younger than 18 years old (including a video a person creates themselves). This is considered child pornography.
  • Possess child pornography, i.e., to save child pornography (on a phone, computer or other device).
  • Distribute child pornography, i.e., sell or share images/ videos. This includes showing it to people, forwarding it, or posting it to the internet.

Images of Young Children

There are also instances when younger children send nude or semi-nude photos, thinking it’s silly or funny. This should be addressed differently than sexting as it is not necessarily intended to be sexual. Younger kids don’t understand that once in cyberspace, it can be hard to control who sees them or have them deleted. You can help your child develop empathy and help them to understand privacy and online safety.

If your child has sent this kind of photo:

  • Don’t blame them. Make sure they know they have your support.
  • Help them ask the person they shared the photo with to delete the photo and involve the parents of that child if needed.
  • Use the opportunity to keep talking about online safety, privacy, and media literacy.


Even with internet filters and restrictions, pornography is accessible to your child, intentionally and unintentionally. It is important to talk to your child about pornography. Just like sexual health, talking to your child early and often can help them make informed decisions.

As they grow, children learn that when people get hurt on TV, they are just acting or pretending to be hurt. Framing pornography as a performance helps your child understand that what they’re seeing isn’t real. Knowing that it’s a performance will let children know that pornography can represent unrealistic and unhealthy sexuality (and sexual assault, sexual abuse and physical abuse in some cases), and it is not showing them real intimacy or healthy relationships.

For more information go to Teaching Sexual Health or you can call the Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868

Current as of: October 21, 2019

Author: Sexual and Reproductive Health, Alberta Health Services