What parents need to know about sexting

Talk about sexting

For young people, connection with friends is an important part of growing up and naturally, a lot of that connection now happens online. Online connection can be great, in balance with real-life connection. But brace yourself, we need to talk about sexting.

What is sexting?

Sexting is when people send and receive sexual images, videos or texts. With the growth of online messaging in general, sexting has become increasingly common. Most young people probably don’t use the term ‘sexting’, rather they’d refer to these messages as ‘nudes’ or – excuse my language - ‘dick pics’.

Right about now, some of you may be asking ‘WHY?’ It’s a fair question, and probably the topic of a whole other conversation. What I will say here is that young people have always been fairly persuasive when it comes to encouraging each other to do risky things. These days, peer pressure frequently shows up online, as does bullying, manipulation, exploitation and revenge. (Throw in some bad jokes and poor decision-making for good measure. I know, yikes.)

Informal research in New Zealand (2023) showed that 40% of young people have sent nudes. Even if you think your child would never send or share any sort of sexual content, they might be on the receiving end so it's important we equip them with how to deal with this growing trend.

What are the risks?

Most people who send a ‘sext’ or a ‘nude’ only intend for one person – the receiver - to see it. However, as soon as you share anything online or via text, you’ve effectively lost control of that message. Nudes can’t be unsent. They can be easily shared though. The harsh reality is that graphic images often make their way to embarrassing and harmful places - even onto porn sites for global distribution.

As confronting as this topic is, I’m sure you’ll agree that talking to our kids about the long-term ramifications of sending a school crush a nude is really, really important. It can be hard for our kids to comprehend how the things they share online today can haunt them for years to come. (Heck, plenty of adults are still figuring this out!)

As soon as you share anything online, you’ve effectively lost control of that message. Nudes can’t be unsent.

Kids need to know that sending sexual images to someone without the recipient's consent isn’t okay. In fact, sending ‘unsolicited nudes’ can be an offence under NZ law (if minors are involved.) Sharing other people’s sexual content without consent can also break the law. The sharing of sexual content in these ways sits under the umbrella of image-based abuse, something the Harmful Digital Communcations Act works to monitor and protect us from.

Another huge concern with any form of sexting is online grooming for sexual content. You might need to sit down for this stat - there has been a 1058% increase in sexual images of 7–10-year-olds circulating online since 2019. What!? HOW!? Basically, predators connect with kids online, posing as a friend or a young person to coerce and pressure a minor into sending self-generated sexual abuse content (Internet Watch Foundation.) This is happening in New Zealand and can occur through chat functions on platforms like Roblox, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok.

We need to talk, but how?


Having regular, nonjudgemental conversations with our kids to check in on what they’re up to online helps our kids trust us as a safe place to talk and disclose. Learning that your child has sent or received nudes can understandably feel upsetting, but over-reacting might mean an early end to an important ongoing conversation. Healthy, honest and robust conversation on any tricky topic can help our kids develop good critical thinking skills of their own. This can then prepare them in advance to cope with risky situations in the future.


Ask your kids for their opinion on sexting. This also helps develop their ability to think critically. Why do they think people send nudes? And what do they think the risks or dangers could be? Ask your kids how a sexting request would make them feel. Talk about the potential motivation behind such a request. If someone is asking for nudes, what are they really communicating? It could be flattering, or it could be outright disrespectful. Ultimately the message is this – “I don’t care about you enough to worry about your reputation. I just want something from you for my own pleasure” - which is pretty selfish. Young people need to know that they have every right to say no to sexting, either sending or receiving.

Share your own thoughts or experiences too. It's great for our kids to know what we think - but try to be more of a Parent Coach than a Sergeant Major. Most of all, tell them that no matter what – whatever they get sent online, whatever they send - you are there to support them.

Young people need to know that they have every right to say no to sexting, either sending or receiving.

How to say no

As you talk about sexting with your kids, help prepare them with ways to say no if they ever get asked to send sexts or nudes. The ‘What would you do if...’ tool is helpful here, as it offers our kids an opportunity to trouble-shoot and problem-solve within the safety of a hypothetical situation. Just throw the question out there – “What would you do if someone asked you for a nude?”

Saying “Hold on. I’ll just ask my mum,” could be an exciting response, with the follow up, “Sorry, she said no.”

With some brainstorming, I’m sure you and your clever kiddos could come up with some better ideas too!

Message sent - too late?

As we’ve already mentioned, we need to help our kids understand that as soon as they send a photo from their phone, there are at least three copies of it floating around - a copy on their device, a copy on the recipient’s device and a copy stored in some seemingly mythological (but actually real and powerful) cloud. Plus, studies [1, 2, 3] show that these photos regularly get shared beyond the intended recipient.

We need our kids to know that the safest way to reduce that risks of sexting is to never take or send a photo or video like that. If it doesn’t exist, it can’t get shared around. If it does exist, you have very little control over who ends up seeing that image.

However, it’s not a hopeless cause. If your child sends a nude which gets shared:

  1. Contact the social media platform where the image was shared to report it and request the content be removed.
  2. Report the platform profile who shared it.
  3. Contact Netsafe and make a report to find out what other options are available to you.
  4. Take It Down developed a free service that can help you remove or stop the online sharing of nude, partially nude or sexually explicit images or videos taken of people under the age of 18.

If it doesn’t exist, it can’t get shared around.

And before we go... we also need to talk about sextortion

Two of the most pressing online dangers today are inappropriate sexualised contact with a child, referred to as online grooming, and financial sextortion of young people.  Sextortion is a form of blackmail where scammers threaten to share intimate images or videos unless their demands (usually money) are met. To carry out this abuse, bad actors often ‘friend’ young people on public forums like social apps (Snapchat, Instagram etc), posing as peers or friendly new connections. They build a friendship, then direct their victims to private chats and different platforms to solicit and share child sexual abuse material (CSAM) or coerce payments by threatening to share intimate images with others.

This is happening for our young people in Aotearoa. Netsafe’s latest report revealed that in the year ending 30 June 2023, they received 1,707 reports of sextortion - a whopping 237% increase on the same period the previous year - and that is only the reported cases!

Keep calm and carry on

As I said, this is a fairly confronting topic! But knowledge is power, especially when it comes to keeping our kids safe. Sex therapist and porn researcher Jo Robertson says, “The most important thing is not to freak out! Start a conversation, having already learnt a bit, and try to stay calm with a non-judgmental tone… or your young person won’t feel safe to be honest with you.”

Jo and her team launched a website, In The Know, to help young people navigate the challenges of online sexual experiences. Topics include sending nudes, feeling uncomfortable about something you've seen or wanting to watch less porn. “It’s been created for our young people, but helpful for parents/caregivers to learn what kind of language to use, and get some practical tips and tools to offer their young person.” The Light Project also features tools for starting important conversations with children, tweens and teens.

Start a conversation, having already learnt a bit, and try to stay calm with a non-judgmental tone… or your young person won’t feel safe to be honest with you.

As you can imagine, admitting to involvement in a sexting or sextortion scenario could be hard for any young person, but our kids need us more than ever in these situations. So, stay calm, stay curious and stay connected.




Holly Jean Brooker

Holly Jean Brooker

Holly Jean Brooker works as a PR Specialist, Writer and Presenter for Parenting Place. She is a mum of two, runs her own marketing consultancy business and has a background in high school education where she specialised in health and social sciences. Holly is co-founder of

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