Sexting and Young People

As part of our Internet Safety School community initiative here at Wild Orange Media, we’ve been delving into new research to examine some of the challenges facing young people online.

The selfie is now a mainstay of our digital lives. But for some young people it can stray into darker areas where they may be encouraged to share self-taken sexual images of themselves, either by a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a trusted adult.

Data from the SPIRTO (Self-Produced Images, Risk Taking Online) research project highlights the prevalence of online sharing of sexual images amongst young people. By conducting a detailed review of 350 cases, SPIRTO found that the average age of a child involved in sharing images of a sexual nature is 11.17 years, and that almost 7 in 10 of the cases involved a female sharing pictures of herself.

Perhaps as one might expect, the gender of the child featured in self-taken images that were shared in non-coercive relationships was equally split between females and males (49%:51%). However, in coercive relationships—where a power imbalance exists between the participants—87% of the images featured females, and only 13% males.

The advice for parents and children alike is simple. Never share photos online that you wouldn’t want to share publicly with everyone you know, or indeed may know in the future. There’s no delete key on the internet; everything you share may be recorded somewhere, and you have little control over who may see it in future. For girls it’s particularly important to stress the importance of not being coerced into something they might later regret, while boys should understand that it’s not appropriate to ask girls to do things they don’t feel comfortable with.

And if a child thinks their photos will only be seen by the intended recipient, think again. A recent study by McAfee found that nearly 60% of threatened ex-lovers have been exposed by their exes. It seems no image is totally safe today when a relationship goes sour.

In other research, this time from the NSPCC, 45% of 11-12 year olds now say they have been upset by trolling, and almost 1 in 4 have experienced aggressive or violent language, or been sent unwanted sexual messages. These threats typically diminish as the child grows older, with 13-16 years olds being less likely to encounter them, and so parental focus needs to be at its highest in the younger years.

Again, the advice for parents is simple. Spend time with your children talking about these issues and helping them understand the potential downsides. Explain how images can travel through the internet and how we effectively surrender control when sharing anything online. And parents should stay particularly alert when supporting under 12’s who are most at risk of being upset or targeted by unwanted attention online.

Finally, the NSPCC also highlights that 23% of 11-12 years olds with a social networking profile claim they have been upset by something on it in the last year. The majority (63%) of children in this age group now use Facebook (even though the minimum age requirement is 13 years!), so keep in mind that imagery may now be shared through a multitude of closed and open channels. The lack of control issue, however, is identical everywhere.


Want to know more?:

NSPCC Study about Sexting (.pdf)

Advice to help teenagers stay out of sexting trouble

Statistics from NSPCC