Child protection experts say unprecedented numbers of teenagers are sharing sexually explicit images with each other and then posting them online.
Ministers have called it a ‘worrying trend’ that 38% of children between the ages of 11 and 17 have received an inappropriate message either through text, email or internet messaging.
Research from Beatbullying found that among those youngsters, 70% admitted that they knew who had sent it.
Amber Slamaker, 16, once posted suggestive pictures of herself to a social networking site but it led to unwanted attention from strangers and approaches from men looking to ‘groom’ her for sex.
She eventually managed to get the pictures deleted but knows many friends who have done similar things, usually when they have low self-esteem and are looking for attention.
Amber, from Kingston-upon-Thames, told Sky News: “Some girls look up to celebrities and think ‘I want to be like that one day, I want to look like her’.
“So they change everything about themselves just to try and be something else, something that they are not just to impress other people and then put the pictures up.”
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) has found that teenagers often take pictures to share with a girlfriend or boyfriend.
Peter Davies, chief executive of Ceop, said: “We know that young people are increasingly using technology not only to stay in touch, but to explore their sexuality and to push the boundaries in what they send and to whom they send it.”
He added: “They often find out later that the image has been passed on to many others and as a result they can be the victims of bullying or harassment – in some rare instances we have seen these images end up in the collections of offenders.”
Professor Andy Phippen, an online safety expert at the University of Plymouth, told Sky News: “There is certainly a sub-population within the wider population that are incredibly blasé about this sort of thing.”
He has carried out detailed research with teenagers in the south-west of England which has produced striking statistics.
“Fiteen per cent of our respondents said that they do not see anything wrong with sending a naked photograph, that there is not anything inappropriate about that.
“Forty per cent of them said there is nothing wrong with a topless photograph.”
Ceop have produced a video for schools that graphically illustrates how youngsters lose control of any images as soon as they are sent or uploaded somewhere.
:: The video is available at www.thinkuknow.co.uk/teachers