Guest columnist: The scourge of ‘sexting’

Lorna Naylor, anti-bullying co-ordinator at Nottinghamshire County Council
Lorna Naylor, anti-bullying co-ordinator at Nottinghamshire County Council

The number of new mobile devices activated on Christmas Day will have been significantly higher than any other day of the year.

And I know this may concern many parents regarding how their children will be using these devices.

One of the more worrying behaviours at the moment is the increase in young people creating and sharing sexual images or ‘sexting’.

Last year, the NSPCC published a warning after figures showed the number of children seeking help over online sexual exploitation shot up by 24 per cent.

Schools are aware of these issues.

Last autumn, 50 Notts secondary school teachers became the first in England to receive the latest training to help them better manage incidents of ‘sexting’.

Two further courses are now planned for primary schools.

Most young people don’t see ‘sexting’ as a problem and are reluctant to talk to adults about it because they’re afraid of being judged or having their phones taken away.

Dangers include the risk of being prosecuted by a young person for producing and distributing child abuse images even if the picture is taken and shared with their permission

The sender also has no control about how a photo or message is passed on.

They can be deleted on social media or may only last a few seconds, but images can still be saved or copied.

They may never be completely removed and could be found in the future when applying for jobs, for example

‘Sexting’ can leave youngsters vulnerable to blackmail where someone may threaten to share pictures unless they send money or more images

If images are shared with peers or in school, the child may be bullied.

Images posted online can attract the attention of sex offenders who know how to search for, collect and modify images

Children can feel embarrassed and humiliated and if they’re very distressed, this could lead to suicide or self-harm.

Parents are becoming more active in supporting young people to resist joining in or where they’ve been affected by ‘sexting’ and other inappropriate contact.

New research shows that parents are using various approaches to mediate their child’s use of online contact, including using technical tools, supervising younger children, setting rules about behaviour and regularly talking to their children about managing risks.

The most important of these, especially for older children who are being pressurised into behaviour they’re uncomfortable with, is regular conversation so youngsters feel comfortable if they need to seek advice from their parents.