Sexting describes the creation and sending of sexually explicit messages, images and videos, typically by mobile phone. This growing problem involves both girls and boys who share explicit text, images or videos for a variety of reasons, including because they feel pressured by their romantic partner, are being forced or coerced into sexting, want to experiment or gain attention, or because the young person feels a sense of peer pressure to join in with something they think ‘everyone is doing’.

Sexting can begin as flirtation or a bit of fun, but in the act of passing on an image or video electronically the sender loses control of the file. It takes seconds for someone to forward and share an indecent image or video with others, or to copy, print, edit or upload the file online for potentially thousands of people to see. Children and young people are often unaware of the consequences of sexting.

Sexting can also become a police matter, as possessing indecent images of a minor under the age of 18 is an offence under the Protection of Children Act 1978 and the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

Schools and youth organisations should address this issue sensitively, using Personal Social Health Education (PSHE) as a vehicle for discussing the consequences and impact of sexting. Resources to explore this issue with young people can be found on the Think U Know website.

When responding to incidents of sexting that are cause for concern, professionals should follow the school or organisation’s behaviour policy and child protection policy if necessary. School staff should only confiscate items from a student (such as a mobile phone) if the school behaviour policy references this as an action that staff can take. Teachers should never view images on a student’s confiscated mobile phone, computer or other device on their own – at least one other member of staff should always be present. If in doubt, the police and the child’s parents should be contacted.