Parents urged to discuss risks of 'sexting' with children, as UK cases increase

Ireland falls behind the UK and US in terms of legislation

Parents urged to discuss risks of 'sexting' with children, as UK cases increase

In this file photo, a teenager checks his smartphone | Image: Nam Y. Huh / AP/Press Association Images

Parents are being urged to talk to their children about the risks of sharing digital information and imagery, particularly 'sexting'.

A report from the NSPCC in Britain found that there were 1,392 counselling sessions where 'sexting' was mentioned - a 15% increase compared to last year.

The charity says around one in seven young people have taken a semi-naked or naked picture of themselves.

Over half went on to share the picture with someone else.

While reports of online abuse have increased, including a rise in the number of Childline counselling sessions about sexting and cyber-bullying.

The report also found half of British parents are unaware of the law surrounding taking and sharing explicit pictures - which makes it illegal in the UK for a child to take nude selfies.

However the same legislation does not apply here, as Irish law has not changed in line with the UK.

In response to the UK report, the ISPCC says: "The sharing of explicit images of minors is captured by the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998 which states that If sexual images or videos of a child (under 17 years of age) are shared or stored on a device the act can be invoked, provided the content shared meets the definition of child pornography. Self-produced explicit images exchanged by adolescents, under the age of 17, could be considered as child pornography."

"The most effective way to keep children safe is to discuss the dangers of sexting and to be supportive if problems do occur," the ISPCC adds.

High levels of Irish 'sexting'

Research from earlier this year found that Irish teenagers are amongst the fourth highest in the European Union for sexting.

The study showed that boys of a lower socio-economic background are more likely to engage in the practice.

Over 25% of secondary school students acknowledged sending or receiving sexts, according to an international academic at an Anti-Bullying Research Centre conference in Dublin.

It also found that teens are unaware of the dangers of sexting and cyber-bullying - and some believe sexting to be a 'normal' part of growing-up.

More than 4.4% of Irish boys and 1.6% of girls aged 11-16 engaged in the behaviour.

It also found that teenagers who scored highly on the spectrum of 'sensation seeking' and 'risk-taking' were more likely to take part in sexting.

The discrepancy in Irish law is also in contrast to legislation in some parts of the US.

Last year, a teenage boy from North Carolina was prosecuted for having nude pictures of himself on his own mobile phone.

The Guardian reported the young man, who was 16 at the time the photos were discovered, had to take a plea deal to avoid potentially going to jail and being registered as a sex offender.

He was prosecuted as an adult under federal child pornography felony laws, for sexually exploiting a minor. The minor was himself.

The boy had to agree to be subject to warrantless searches for a year, in addition to other penalties.

He also suffered a suspension as quarterback of his school football team while the case was being resolved.