Children on smart phones talking about sexting and pornography

Technology & Media

Kids are forming and maintaining relationships online and offline with their peers from school, sports, clubs, etc. Sometimes they form relationships with people they may have never met before. In many cases, their online lives are just as important to them as their lives offline. Kids use online platforms like gaming, social media, chats and texting to make and sustain these relationships.

Technology and sexual health are linked in many ways. Digital and social media can be used to support sexual health. This website is an example of this. Media campaigns encouraging people to make healthy decisions for their sexual health are also examples. In this case, digital media can improve sexual health knowledge and behaviours.

Teens get messages about sexuality and relationships through technology every day. This includes messages about:

  • Gender
  • Sex
  • Body image
  • Sexual health
  • Consent and relationships

Sometimes these messages are directly about sexuality, like in pornography or sexts. Other times, the messages are more subtle, like in video games, advertisements or video clips.

There is another side to technology and media. As a parent, you may not always know how to approach it. Technology and media connect people from all over. They let anyone access all kinds of information, images and videos. Here are a few tips to help you navigate the online world with your child:

  • Be a part of your child’s media life. Teach them how to stay safe and be prepared to deal with issues that could arise.
  • Promote healthy online relationships and teach your child to respect themselves and others.  Knowing how to behave respectfully and responsibly online is good for them.
  • Talk to your child about protecting privacy and online safety. Your messages will need to adapt to their changing age, so they get the information they need at that age. They’ll also need to understand their responsibility in protecting other people’s privacy.
  • Set rules for internet use and social media use. Adjust the rules as they grow. Being consistent with the rules is key.
  • Communicate your values. Let your child know they can make a difference and be a positive influence online.

For more information see Additional Resources.

Media Literacy

The media sends many messages about sexuality, relationships, stereotypes, and body image. Some messages are healthy and some are unhealthy. Kids need to develop skills to understand these messages. Here are a few ways your child might develop these skills:

  • Use teachable moments. Start a conversation by connecting what you saw on TV or online to a family belief, value, expectation.
  • Help kids think about and understand media. Teach them the skills to understand what they’re watching, hearing or reading.
  • Kids learn by example. Be a good role model and set limits for your own media use.
  • Set limits about how much screen time is allowed. Have consequences if expectations aren’t followed. Encourage kids to take regular breaks from technology. Model taking breaks.
  • Be sure they know how to keep personal information like family details private.

Take the time to talk to your kids about:

  • your family’s values–so they have a basis for assessing the messages.
  • the real world–to help them understand what’s fantasy and what’s reality.
  • what you expect–so they have rules to live by.
  • their experiences. Ask open-ended questions and listen carefully to what they share.

Learn more about the importance of discussing your family values here.

*Adapted from My Health Alberta 


Sexting is when people send or receive sexual pictures, messages, or videos through text or instant messaging. For example, cell phones, apps, emails or webcams can be used to sext. The word ‘sexting’ comes from combining the words sex and texting. As tempting as it may be, using scare tactics to frighten youth away from sexting doesn’t work. Some people share intimacy with another consenting person through sexts. Sexting also gives teens a chance to practice communicating about sexuality.

Talk to teens about privacy, technology and safety whether or not you think they sext. Some discussions to have with teens are:

  • It’s okay to be curious about sex.
  • It’s okay to want to communicate in a flirting or sexual way with peers.
  • Let’s talk about safe and healthy ways to communicate with sexting.
  • How can you give and get consent about sexting?
  • There are risks and benefits to using technology in sexual ways.

The same rules for healthy communication in real life apply to the online environment. When we teach about communicating online, we teach about trust, respect, privacy and consent.

Sexting does come with some risks and it’s important that your child understands these risks:

  • Creating sexual pictures of anyone younger than 18 is creating child sexual abuse material. This is against the law.
  • Private pictures and messages can be shared with others without permission. It isn’t possible to ‘unsend’ or take back a sext. Once pictures or messages are in cyberspace, it can be hard to control them. The sender won’t know who see the sexts or shares them. It’s very difficult to get them deleted.
  • Sharing sexts that weren’t meant for others to see is wrong. It may be considered cyberbullying. Sharing them may be against the law (see Sexting and the Law below).
  • The sharing of sexts beyond the person who was meant to receive them can have negative results. It can damage the sender’s self-image, mental health, and relationships.

For more information, go to Cyberbullying.

Sexting and the Law

In Canada, it’s not a crime for teens to take nudes of themselves. There is a ‘private use exception’ under Canada’s child pornography law. This means that young people won’t be criminally charged for taking nude photos of themselves, or consensually and privately sharing their own nudes with another close-in-age teen.

  • It is illegal to:
    • share sexual images or videos of others without consent.
    • pressure people to share sexual images or videos in a harassing way.
    • threaten to share sexual images or videos to make someone stay in a relationship, pay money, or share more images or videos.
    • possess child sexual abuse material. In other words, you can’t save the content described above on a phone, computer or any other device.
    • have and share child sexual abuse material. In other words, a person can’t sell or share sexual images/videos of someone under 18. This includes showing it to people, forwarding it, or posting it online.

Learn more at DIY Digital Safety

What you as a parent can do

Like many other sexual health topics, talking about sexting may be awkward. But it’s a very important talk with your teen, even if it’s a tough topic. Discuss what sexting is and how it could be risky, harmful to themselves and others, or even illegal.

Try starting with these questions:

  • 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 talk to your teen about:

  • Think before you send. You need to feel in control of what you send and receive.
  • Be kind and show respect. In the digital world, act 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 without you knowing.
  • Say no when you’re not comfortable with what’s happening. Talk to a trusted adult about it.
  • How could this impact you now or in the future? How will others react? Your friends, family, or future boss might see it.
  • Don’t forward. If you don’t have consent to share a sext, you are hurting the person who originally sent it. Sharing sexts may also be against the law.

Here are some steps you can take to keep your child or 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.
  • Monitor accounts and ensure you know their passwords. Follow your teens on social media and use parental controls.
  • Watch for warning signs of cyberbullying. These could include skipping activities or meals, losing or gaining weight, or a drop in grades.

If Photos of Your Child are Shared Without Consent

Help your child contact the site(s) where the image has been posted and ask for the image to be removed. When your child contacts the website they will need to share:

  • that they are the person in the picture
  • their age when the picture was taken; “I am under 18 years of age.
  • that they don’t want the content posted
  • the URL for the image

You, or your child can also report this to It is Canada’s tip line for online sexual exploitation of children.

For more information on sexting and online safety, go to Additional Resources.

*Adapted from My Health Alberta 

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 treated differently than sexting, as it’s likely not intended to be sexual. Younger kids don’t understand that once in cyberspace, it can be hard to control who sees them. They are not aware that it may be hard to delete them. If the images are of other kids, you can help your child develop empathy towards that child. 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 that child’s parents, if needed.
  • Use the opportunity to keep talking about online safety, privacy, and media literacy.

Ask your child how they might feel if:

  • they received a nude or semi-nude picture from someone.
  • the photo was shared with someone that they didn’t want to see.
  • they couldn’t delete the photo, or they couldn’t get their friend to delete the photo.

For more information on technology and media, go to Additional Resources.


Talk to teens about privacy, technology and safety, whether or not you think they view pornography. Some healthy messages to share with teens are:

  • It’s okay to be curious about sex.
  • It’s important to check facts – not everything online is true.
  • It’s good to think about what ideas or values are being promoted.
  • There can be risks and benefits to using technology in sexual ways.

Despite your best efforts, your child might still see graphic sexual content online. They may find it accidentally or on purpose because they’re curious. It is important to talk to your child about sexually explicit media. Just like with sexual health, talking to your child early and often can help them make informed decisions.

When talking about graphic sexual images or videos, you can build on what you’ve already talked with them about media literacy. As they grow, children learn that much of what they see on TV is not real; it’s actors pretending. Talking about pornography as acting helps your child understand that what they’re seeing isn’t real. Points you may want to make with your child or teen:

  • Real sex doesn’t feel like porn looks.
  • It’s made to sell an idea of sex that may not be healthy.
  • Sometimes it leads to unhealthy ideas about body image and relationships.
  • It can change how the teen brain and body work together for sex.

What you can do as a parent

  • Set clear rules about going to sites with graphic sexual content. This can reduce the chance that your child will look for porn.
  • For younger kids, use filters to block sexually explicit media. At an older age, remove filters and maintain open communication. When kids are older, they will want and need greater internet access. You will want your teen to have access to quality sexual health resources. Rules for the internet and social media are important to enforce as kids age.
  • Help your younger child identify the content you don’t want them to see. This way they can tell you if they’ve seen any graphic sexual content. You can help them understand what they saw and help them avoid it happening again.
  • Open, honest communication is always preferable to invading privacy.
  • Try not to overreact. You want your child or teen to feel comfortable asking you for help and advice.

Tips for talking with your child

  • Talk to your child about sex and healthy relationships from an early age.
  • Keep the conversation going as they become more curious about relationships and sex, and as their online lives grow.
  • Let them know that curiosity about bodies, sex and relationships is normal.
  • Explain that images that are graphic and exploit people are often found online. Ask that they come to you if they see any. Seeing explicit sexual content can be very disturbing to some kids. You want them to feel comfortable telling you what they saw.
  • Build media literacy skills with your child. Let them know that online graphic sexual content, like mass media, sends messages that are often unhealthy and unrealistic. These messages can include portraying sexuality, relationships, stereotypes and body image in a way that is not based on reality.

For more information on pornography, go to Additional Resources.

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