Sexting, also referred to by young people as trading nudes, nude selfies, dirties or pic for pic, is when someone shares sexual, naked or semi-naked images or videos of themselves or others, or sends sexually explicit messages, writes NSPCC campaigns manager Helen Westerman
They can be sent using mobiles, tablets, smartphones, laptops - any device that allows you to share media and messages. Creating or sharing explicit images of a child is illegal, even if the person doing it is a child.
A young person is breaking the law if they take an explicit photo or video of themselves or a friend, or share an explicit image or video of a child - even if it’s shared between children of the same age.
It is also against the law to possess, download or store an explicit image or video of a child, even if the child apparently gave their permission for it to be created.
If a young person is found creating or sharing images, the police can choose to record that a crime has been committed but that taking formal action isn’t in the public interest. So it is vital that we talk to our children about the dangers of sexting.
There are many reasons why a young person may want to send a naked or semi-naked picture, video or message to someone else.
Our Childline counsellors have heard how some teenagers felt pressured by peers into sending nude selfies.
Some young people were worried that images they had sent would be shared with others or uploaded on to the internet.
One 14-year-old girl told us: “I sent some naked pictures of myself to a boy that I was talking to online. I really regret it now because he took screenshots and says that he’ll show them to all my friends. I don’t know how to report him, I really don’t want my family to find out.”
This time next year the new compulsory relationships and sex education curriculum will be introduced in schools across England – marking a hugely momentous change. For the first time, issues affecting young people today, from abuse to online grooming, will be delivered to all children in a standardised and age-appropriate way to help them navigate the modern world.
The current lessons were last updated over a generation ago in 2000, before the technology revolution which presents risks to children that their parents did not have to deal with - including sexting.
But we as parents can play our part now too. By having regular online safety chats, we can instil healthy attitudes to online safety in our children.
You can find more information about your child’s online world and the most popular apps/games they’re using at www.net-aware.org.uk or call the O2 NSPCC Online Safety advice line for free on 0808 800 5002.