Sexual identity and relationships 

Exploring and testing sexual identity and behaviour is a normal part of adolescence, being a teen and growing up. Think back to when you were a teenager… you probably read about sex and relationships in books and magazines, discussed it with your friends and started going out with boys or girls for the first time.

The internet and mobiles have simply given young people new ways of doing this. Now, your child has access to a wide range of information on websites and blogs and through their mobile (e.g. teen helplines), as well as the chance to socialise with other teenagers on social networking websites and in chat rooms and talk to experts on forums and message boards about issues close to their heart.

What do I need to know about this? 

Knowing how to support your child as they develop and explore their sexual identity and behaviour is perhaps one of the biggest challenges you’ll face as a parent. It can be difficult and embarrassing – for them and you.

It’s up to you how you approach these conversations, but we thought it would be useful if you had some insight into some of the ways your kids might be exploring sex and relationships online as you might not realise what’s going on. For example, they could be:

  • Using search engines to find information – they could inadvertently come across pornography on the internet or actively look for it
  • Socialising and flirting with people on social networking sites like Bebo, Facebook and MySpace and in chat rooms – these could be existing friends or might be people they’ve never even met in real life
  • Using instant messaging or webcams to chat and share intimate footage with their boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Exchanging intimate or naked photos or videos with other people via text, email or Bluetooth – this is called sexting and is a growing trend among teenagers
  • Going to chat rooms where they can have conversations about sex and relationships with people they’ve only ever met online
  • Discussing issues such as sexual health and sexual orientation in forums and message boards, either with their peers or with agony aunts and health professionals
  • Calling or texting hotlines for dating or for general advice about sex and relationships

Did you know?
According to Beatbullying, more than a third of under 18s in the UK have received a “sext”

 

 

You might have read about sexting recently and be worried about the consequences if your son or daughter exchanges photos or videos in this way.

There is concern that some young people are being pressurised into sharing intimate or naked images that could end up in the wrong hands. Some people have also been known to use sexts to bully or harass the sender (by forwarding the photo or video around the school to embarrass them, for example) and the police are concerned that published sexts (on social networking websites, for example) could be accessed by sex offenders. Furthermore, if your child takes, holds or shares indecent images, they could be breaking the law.

What action can I take? 

Make sure that any conversation you have with your child about sex and relationships involves a discussion about how they might use the internet and their mobile to help explore their sexual identity and behaviour. It’s unlikely they’ll tell you about everything they’re doing online and they might be embarrassed, but it’s worth making it a regular discussion point

Don’t wait until something happens – let them know that you’re aware of some of the things they might be doing and reassure them that they can come to you if they’re worried or feeling pressurised into doing stuff online

If you’re worried that your son or daughter might be taking part in sexting, talk to them about the consequences - eg encourage them to resist pressure from their friends even if they’re being encouraged to send a sext “for a laugh”, explain that it’s illegal to take, hold or share indecent images of anyone under the age of 18, discuss how their images might get passed on to other people they know or fall into the hands of strangers (who might use them in a negative way) and remind them that once they’ve sent or posted their image, they can’t retrieve it

Don’t deal with this subject alone – there are lots of useful websites (see below)

Check with your child’s school whether they cover responsible use of the internet and mobiles (eg the risks of sexting) during sex education classes

If you’re concerned that someone has sent your child indecent pictures or videos or that a stranger has made inappropriate contact online, report it to your internet or mobile provider and to the relevant authorities – report it to the Internet Watch Foundation and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre in the UK

There are a number of useful articles on this website, providing advice on everything from Bluetooth, chat & IM and social networking to cyberbullying, online grooming and managing reputation

If your child is concerned or upset about something to do with their sexuality or a relationship, you could suggest they speak in confidence to Childline in the UK

Where can I go for more information and support?