If your child gets into trouble for their online sexual behaviour

The internet and technology are key parts of everyday life. There are many positives for everyone, including young people, but there are also risks. Just like adults can get into trouble or be harmed online, so can young people.

This guide aims to answer some of the questions you might have if you are worried about your child’s online sexual behaviour or if they have got into trouble online. We also have guides to help you work out if a child or young person’s sexual behaviour is appropriate for their age.

The experienced advisors on our confidential helpline can support you with any worries. You can stay anonymous and don’t have to give your real name, location or any contact details. If you’re not ready to speak to anyone yet, you can also use our live chat or send a secure email. If your child has additional needs, our advisors can give you specific advice and support. You should also speak to any childcare professionals already involved with your family.

Your child can also visit Shore, our website for young people.

How young people get into trouble for online sexual behaviours

It’s important for parents and carers to understand how their children can get into trouble online, what the warning signs are, how to respond and where to get help.

My child has watched pornography online

Many teenagers will see pornography online. They might search for it, find it by accident or be shown it by someone else. But pornography shouldn’t be used to learn about sex or relationships. It often ignores the values of respect and consent, and gives unhelpful expectations about gender roles and body image.

Finding out about what is being taught in school about pornography and talking with young people about these issues can help them to spot and reject unhelpful messages and ideas.

We have more information and advice about how to talk to your child about pornography.

My child has sent or received sexual images with peers

The internet can help young people learn and understand themselves, their bodies and the world. It can help build relationships and understand more about their sexuality and develop their identity.

Young people can be affected by the internet differently, and some are at risk of being exploited online. Some young people feel pressure from their peers to go along with sexual behaviours they are not ready for. Sometimes sexual images of a young person can be shared with other people without their consent. Children and young people can sometimes feel additional pressure to share sexual images, even when they’re not comfortable doing so.

We have more information and advice about how to talk to your child about nudes and sexual selfies.

My child is in trouble for viewing illegal sexual pictures or videos

If your child has been arrested for viewing indecent images of children, the images likely show children being sexually abused and exploited. Some images are taken and uploaded to the internet by children themselves and later shared without their consent.

In the UK it is illegal to have, make or share:

  • sexual images of under-18s (also called indecent images of children), including real-life photographs or videos, or images made to look like they are real (pseudo-images)
  • images that show the sexual abuse of children (known as prohibited images), including cartoons or computer-generated drawings
  • images of extreme violence, rape, necrophilia (sex with corpses) or bestiality (sex with animals)
  • images or videos of a sexual or indecent nature of someone without their knowledge or consent. This is called voyeurism.

You can report illegal sexual pictures or videos of children to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF).

My child has been having inappropriate sexual conversations online

Many young people develop romantic relationships, flirt, or have sexual conversations online. These conversations don’t have to be a worry if they are age-appropriate, consensual and respectful.

Young people may struggle to understand what consent looks like online and may cross the line, leading to another child or young person feeling uneasy, threatened or forced into sending sexual messages or images of themselves. Sometimes young people have sexual conversations with younger children or people with additional needs, causing them harm. The context of these conversations is important to consider and to help you know how to respond.

If your child has been talking to strangers online, they may be at risk of being groomed. To learn more about this and how to protect your child, check out our grooming page. You can report any grooming concerns to CEOP.

In the UK, it is illegal for anyone:

  • to encourage a child under 18 to perform a sexual act or show sexual parts of their body online, such as over webcam or sharing images in private messages
  • to engage in sexual chat about children with other people online, including on social media, chatrooms or email
  • to publish any sexual content which will have a negative effect on someone else, including the reader and the subject of the content. Whilst writing or reading a sexual story about a child is not illegal, it is against the law to distribute and publish such material for this reason under the Obscene Publication Act
  • over 18 to intentionally communicate with a child under 16 for sexual purposes or to arrange to meet that child for sex
  • over 18 to show a child under 16 sexual material, including pornography or sexual pictures of themselves.

Face-to-face help

We offer face-to-face help through our Inform Young People programme. This is an educational programme for young people in trouble with the police, their school or college for inappropriate use of technology and the internet.

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