Latest research has found that adults are more likely to send naked selfies than young people. But sexting is also on the increase among teens

The selfie has become a global phenomenon and it’s not just young people who are at it. Selfies featuring popstars, politicians and even the Pope have gone viral on social media. You might even have posted a few yourself.

But along with the rise of the selfie has come growing concern about young people sharing photos or videos of themselves without their clothes on, also known as sexting. This is not just a youth issue: over-18s are far more likely to sext than young people. But it is especially risky for young people.

Research led by our partners at the University of Edinburgh shows that many young people initially send pictures to someone they trust, like a boyfriend or girlfriend – often as a way of flirting or experimenting before they become sexually active. Sometimes sharing a revealing selfie makes them feel good about themselves.

Sometimes it’s just a bit of a laugh. Whatever the reason, it’s important for them to understand that once they’ve hit the Send button they’ve lost control of that picture. Often it goes no further, but for some it can have severe consequences, including anxiety, low self-esteem, bullying and an increased risk of being approached by adults seeking sexual contact online.

How can I keep my child safe?

Get the knowledge you need

  • Make time to learn from your child about the apps, games and websites they use.
  • Watch CEOP’s series of short films Nude Selfies: What Parents Need to Know

Don’t wait for something to happen before you talk to your child

  • As soon they’re old enough (some children have shared risky selfies while still in primary school) talk to your child about the risks of sharing revealing selfies, and explain that they should never be forced into doing so. Make this part of a positive ongoing conversation about relationships, sex and growing up.
  • Remind your child that when they meet people online, they can’t be sure who they really are, so it’s not safe to share personal pictures or information with them.
  • Make sure your children know that they can always come to you if they’re worried about anything, that you will understand and that you will not be angry or blame them.

If you find out your child has sent or shared a revealing selfie…

Stay calm and talk to your child. Try to see the situation from their point of view. Make sure they know that you’re not angry and don’t blame them; they’re probably feeling very anxious about what you’ll think or say.

  • Contact CEOP if you have any concerns about grooming, sexual abuse or exploitation.
  • Contact your child’s school. They can support your child and discuss the issue with students who have seen or shared the image.
  • Report the image to social networks it appears on, so that they will take it down.
  • Report the image to the Internet Watch Foundation if you need their help removing it from a site without a Report function.

Nude Selfies: What Parents Need to Know

National Crime Agency, CEOP Command

Internet Watch Foundation

This article first appeared in Vodafone’s Digital Parenting magazine (2015).

Kate Burls

Kate Burls is Education Team Coordinator at the National Crime Agency, CEOP Command