Teenagers are 30% more likely to send sexually explicit images to each other by the time they start the Leaving Certificate cycle than when they first enter secondary school, writes Conall Ó Fátharta.
That’s according to a study by Zeeko, which works with parents, teachers, and children to promote digital health and internet safety among primary and secondary school children.
Its study of more than 3,200 secondary school pupils found that 13% have sent a nude/semi-nude photograph/video of themselves.
A total of 7% have sent a nude/semi-nude photo/video of themselves to someone they met online, while 15% have shared or showed a friend a nude/semi-nude photo/video that was sent by someone else. Some 14% of the pupils admitted to having sexted someone who is not their partner.
Boys are more likely than females to engage in all sexting behaviours measured, with 17% stating they had sent a nude/semi-nude photo/video of themselves compared to 9% of females.
A total of 18% of males and 8% of females have sexted a non-partner, while 10% of males sexted someone they first met online compared to 4% females.
The level of sexting was found to have increased dramatically through each year of secondary school. For example, just 4% of first-year pupils sexted an image compared to 34% of sixth years.
A total of 3% of first years sexted someone they first met online compared to 15% of sixth years, while just 4% of first years sexted a non-partner compared to 34% of sixth years.
Some 6% of first years said they had shared a sext they had received compared to 27% of sixth years.
Secondary school students are also increasingly likely to engage with and meet strangers as they get older.
The research found that 32% of first years spoke to strangers online compared to 70% of sixth years, while 8% of first years met strangers physically compared to 38% of sixth years.
Despite this, the study found that secondary school students are well aware of online risks. Over three-quarters of those surveyed said they consider posts, photos, and videos they put online as being something serious or very serious.
Social psychologist from the London School of Economics and Political Science and head of research with Zeeko, Marina Everri, said: “Texting, sharing videos and photos, encounters with strangers and looking for strangers online to meet offline respond to adolescents’ need to expand their social network outside of their families.
“However, there is a need for education programmes that teach adolescents how to critically assess the content and potential risks associated with sexting.”
This story originally appeared in the Irish Examiner.