This is the age of the gadget. And gadgets are the domain of the young.
Not exclusively, of course, but they seem to have the confidence and instinctive know-how to get the most from new technologies.

Sexting - James Brey iStock_000020990475XSmall (2)

Photo courtesy of ©istockphoto/JamesBrey

We’ve looked at online safety before on this blog. We’ve also looked at how prevalent pornography is and how easily and often young people view it.
But there is another phenomenon that has emerged as part of this technological revolution. Sexting.

So what exactly is sexting?…

One definition says that sexting is:

“the sending of sexually explicit photos, images, text messages, or e-mails by using a cell phone or other mobile device.” (

If your own teenager, or those you work with, are anything like mine, given half a chance they will be perpetually glued to their phones. This just underlines how important it is for us to be aware of sexting.

So what are the dangers of sexting?

There aren’t many people left who don’t have a mobile phone. And increasing numbers of us have smartphones. More than your average mobile phone, smartphones also allow us to send and receive email, surf the internet and a host of other functions.
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They are the perfect device for sexting, because they are…

  • POWERFUL – they can easily upload files to the internet, including pictures or video…
  • PORTABLE – they are very small and can be easily kept in a pocket or a handbag…
  • PRIVATE – they can take, store and upload high quality images without anyone else being aware…

So whilst mobile phones are great for allowing us to keep in touch with our kids and for helping to keep them safe, there are dangers too.
Technologies this powerful place responsibilities in the hands of young people that we must help them to exercise wisely. For their own sake.
This video, from CEOP, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, illustrates how easily young people can misuse their mobiles, and put their own well-being at risk through sexting.

This particular video shows the dangers for girls. This is especially the case when a young woman is already vulnerable, socially isolated, has low self-esteem or is otherwise a potential target for abuse.
But, there are clear dangers for all young people. The news recently about a boy being interviewed by Police in school, illustrates this starkly!


A survey of over 2000 carried out by the Beatbullying charity, found that as many as 1 in 5 of 11 to 17 year olds had received a sexually explicit or distressing text or email. 70% of those who’d received explicit pictures said that they knew the person in the image.
U.S. studies found that around 1 in 10 American teenagers had sent “sexts” and 1 in 3 had received them.
So, this is clearly not a small problem, but one which teenagers are running up against frequently.


A future post will address this issue more fully. But a couple of things to bear in mind about sexting are:

  • Reputation loss – if a private picture becomes public, the loss of face and reputation can be brutal. Such has been cited as a possible reason for previous teenage suicides. See the case of Daniel Perry for a tragic illustration of just this point. 
  • Bullying – this too is a growing issue in the online environment. It’s easy to see how explicit images of young people could be used against them in this way. See our previous post on cyber-bullying for more on this.
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Final thoughts…

Once again, as I write this post, I find that the issue grows as I research it. I have not looked at the reasons young people send such “sexts” to each other, what some of the other dangers are or at the advice that is available for parents, carers and professionals who support young people.
These will be the focus of future posts – read the next one here

What do you think?

  • Have you had an experience of helping a young person deal with sexting? 
  • What would your advice be to young people or indeed to parents, carers and professionals?

Please contribute to this discussion by adding your own thoughts and experiences. You can  leave a comment by scrolling down, or just click here.

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© Jonny Matthew 2013 (updated March 2017)