Children on smart phones talking about sexting and pornography

Technology & Media

Children are forming and maintaining relationships online and offline with their peers from school, sports, clubs etc. and with people they may have never met before. In many cases their ‘online lives’ are just as important to them as their lives ‘offline’.

Technology and sexual health are linked in many ways. Digital and social media can be used to support sexual health, like this website for example, or media campaigns that encourage people to make healthy decisions that protect and promote their sexual health. In this case, digital media can improve sexual health knowledge and behaviours.

There is another side to technology and media, which as a parent you may not always know how to approach. Technology and media connect people from all over and 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 other people, and behave respectfully and responsibly online.
  • Talk to your child about protecting privacy and online safety, what that means at different ages and their role in protecting other people’s privacy.
  • Set rules for internet use and social media use, and 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 messages about sexuality, relationships, stereotypes, and body image, which can be unhealthy for both children and parents. Children need to develop skills to understand these messages. Here are a few ways your child might develop these skills.

  • Use teachable moments as a chance to connect what was just seen on TV or online, to a family belief, value, expectation or to introduce a certain conversation.
  • Help children think about and understand media by teaching them skills they need to understand the meaning of what they’re watching, hearing or reading.
  • Children 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 and have consequences if expectations aren’t followed.

Take the time to talk to your children about:

  • family values – so they have a basis to understand 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

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 technology, ​e.g. cell phone, app, email, or webcam. The word sextin​g comes from a combination of the words sex and text. Trying to frighten young people from sexting by only talking about doomsday scenarios is not effective. Some people express intimacy by sharing consensual sexts. However sexting does comes with risks, and it’s important that your child understands these risks:

  • Creating sexual pictures of anyone younger than 18 years old) is considered child sexual abuse material. This is against the law.
  • Pictures and messages that were meant to be private, can be shared without permission. It’s not possible to  ‘unsend’ a sext. Once pictures or messages are in cyberspace, it can be hard to control who sees them, shares them or have them deleted.
  • Sharing sexts that weren’t for others to see, may be considered cyberbullying and may be against the law (e.g., child sexual abuse material, criminal harassment, luring a child, and uttering threats).
  • The sharing of sexts can have negative effects on self-image, mental health, and relationships.

For more information, go to Cyberbullying.

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 sexual abuse material (sometimes known as child pornography).
    • possess child sexual abuse material, i.e., to save child sexual abuse material (on a phone, computer or other device)
    • distribute child sexual abuse material, i.e., sell or share images/ videos. This includes showing it to people, forwarding it, or posting it to the internet.

What you as a parent can do

Like many other sexual health topics, talking about sexting may be awkward. But the fact is, it’s very important to talk to your teen about it. Discuss what sexting is, how participating in 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 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 trusted adult about it.
  • How could this impact me now or in the future? How will others react? Your friends, family, or future boss might see it.
  • Don’t forward. Sharing sexts may 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 for cyberbullying, like 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 Canada’s tip line for online sexual exploitation of children at

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 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.

Ask your child how they might feel if:

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

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


Even with internet filters, apps and restrictions, pornography and sexually explicit content is accessible to your child, both intentionally and unintentionally. Some children find pornography accidentally and some seek it out, because they are curious. 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.

When talking about pornography or sexually explicit images, you can build on media literacy conversations you have had with them. 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.

What you can do as a parent

  • Setting clear rules about visiting pornographic sites can reduce the chances that your child will look for porn.
  • For younger children, use filters to block sexually explicit content. At an older age, when children want greater internet access and need access to quality sexual health resources, remove filters and maintain open communication – internet and social media rules are important to have and enforce.
  • Help your child to identify inappropriate content. This way they can tell you if they’ve seen any explicit 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. Your child should feel comfortable turning to you for help and advice if they see pornography.

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 in relationships, sex and as their online lives grow.
  • Let them know that curiosity about bodies, sex and relationships is normal.
  • Explain that pornography and exploitative images are often found online, and that they can come to you if they see any. Seeing pornography can be very disturbing to some children. You want them to feel comfortable telling you what they saw.
  • Build media literacy skills with your child. Let them know that pornography, like mass media, sends messages about sexuality, relationships, stereotypes and body image, which can be unhealthy and unrealistic.

For more information on pornography, go to Additional Resources.

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