Teenagers tell survey 'sexting' is routine
A survey of Westcountry school children has revealed that phone texting sexualised material is routine for the majority of youngsters in their early teens.
The research, led by a Devon academic, has revealed that boys and girls regularly swap explicit pictures of themselves and has prompted calls for better sex education in school and tougher online security to block internet sites.
Using mobile phones to share explicit material – so-called "sexting" – is normalising the consumption of hardcore pornography, the detailed study of 150 pupils at eight South West schools has found.
Professor Andy Phippen, of Plymouth University, said: "What is clear from this work is the sexting is almost routine in the lives of many 14-year-olds.
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"They are highly unlikely to turn to an adult for fear of being judged – it is something they address with their friends.
"However, what is also clear is that they are willing to talk about these issues if done in a supportive and sensitive manner and it is something all the young people we spoke to felt should be addressed in school."
The work was conducted by the university along with the UK Safer Internet Centre and the National Society for the Protection of Cruelty in Children (NSPCC).
It canvassed the opinions of 120 children aged between 13 and 14 years old and 30 youngsters aged between 10 and 11 years old.
One girl told researchers: "I get asked for naked pictures at least two or three times a week."
A boy revealed that in many cases: "You would have seen a girl's breasts before you've seen their face."
Another youngster referred to sexting as "the new flirting".
The study concluded that sexting is considered almost routine for many 13 to 14-year-olds.
It said young people were unwilling to turn to adults for help due to fear of being judged but wanted the subject discussed more at school.
More reassuringly for parents of younger children, the results showed that the age group from 10 to 11 years old are still largely safe from exposure to sexualised content.
Jon Brown, sexual abuse lead at the NSPCC, said the need for good quality sex education was now "absolutely critical".
"It needs to be age-appropriate, but if we are to be able to help young people navigate their way through these pressures, it also needs to start in primary school," he added.
David Wright, director of UK Safer Internet Centre, claimed technology and the internet offered "amazing opportunities" but also raised issues and threats which could have "devastating consequences".