MORE than 2,000 kids have been reported to the police for alleged sexting.
Many of those children are thought to have taken, or been sent, intimate selfies.
The psychological implications of sending and sharing naked or sexually explicit snaps are huge.
Research shows children are at risk of severe emotional distress, anxiety and depression ??as well as embarrassment ??if the images get into the wrong hands.
Recent figures show there has been a 25 per cent rise in mental health referrals linked to sexting.
A girl of 15 committed suicide in 2012 after a topless picture of hers was circulated on the internet.
Amanda Todd, from Canada, died after feeling anxious and suffering from depression and panic attacks when the picture surfaced.
And last week the National Institute for Health & Care Excellence (NICE) urged teachers to be vigilant when it comes to inappropriate sexual behaviour, such as sharing sexual photos on smartphones.
Some health bosses even suggest kids caught sexting should be referred to social services for psychological help.
Figures from the NSPCC show one in seven young people have taken a semi-naked or naked picture of themselves, with more than half of those sharing the picture with someone else.
But, in reality, the number could be higher. Child protection officers investigate a new case of sexting every day and kids are often blackmailed over the images.
Exploitation expert and safeguarding officer Sharon Girling says: ?쏯ot only can children suffer mental health issues after the images are spread, once on the internet, embedded into the image is the exact place where the picture was taken and the telephone number of the mobile device it was taken on ??a clear safety risk.
Parents must give kids the tools to say no
?쏰nce that image appears online, parents are powerless to stop it spreading. Many images end up on child abuse websites.
?쏱arents need to speak to their children about their smartphones, check them regularly and give them the tools to say no to sending pics.??/p>
- IF your youngster?셲 image has been sent to another child, consider contacting their school to discuss it and make sure the image is not circulated. If the image was requested by an adult ??which is illegal and classed as grooming ??contact the Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre (CEOP) on 0370 496 7622.
SPOT KEY DANGER SIGNS
IF you notice your child becoming more withdrawn or moody, it might not simply be due to their teen years.
Spending time glued to their phone without letting you see it could mean your child has a sexting problem.
When you give your kids access to a smartphone or the internet, you should talk to them about sexting ??and make it clear you will have access to their phone, email and social media.
Kids are sexting from a younger age than ever before, so it is vital you teach them what is acceptable and what isn?셳 when it comes to sexual behaviour, as well as warning them about online predators.
Conversations about sexting at this age will help them understand what is normal and what isn?셳. Too many kids think what they see in pornography is normal.
Being exposed when a sexually explicit photo is made public can be catastrophic, so you need to give your kids knowledge about sexting.
Broach the topic as early as you can and explain they don?셳 have to do anything they don?셳 want to do. Help them understand that while there is nothing wrong with having sexual feelings, they will have to live with the consequences if they take a photo that later becomes public.
Research shows boys are inclined to pressure girls for images and girls worry about the implications of not sending them. It is up to parents to teach boys to respect girls and their feelings ??and to teach girls to say no.
Children also need to know where to turn if they sext and it goes wrong.
Tell them you will be there for them. But let them know the consequences and give them the confidence to make their own decisions in the moment.
They might feel like they have been naughty and have nobody to turn to if their snap is shown to others. So make it clear that they can always talk to you, even if it is embarrassing for them.
It is also essential they know they are breaking the law if they share someone?셲 sexually explicit image.
They could end up on the sex offenders??register, even if not yet 18.
Son sent naked pics
CARE assistant Sarah, from Guildford, caught her son Tom, 15, sexting girls at school.
The mum of three says: Problems with Tom started at ten when his dad and I divorced.
His dad bought him a laptop when he was 11. He started locking himself in his room looking at porn. I later found out it was really hardcore ??horrible images with animals and degrading for women.
When Tom was 12, his brother said he was sending girls ?쐍aughty??messages.
I checked his texts and was shocked. He was targeting one girl, asking for ?쐂irties????pictures of her topless and without knickers. He?셝 sent her a full-frontal picture of himself naked and would send up to ten messages a night, some at 3am. His language was crude.
When I tackled him about it, he laughed. He said everyone was doing it and his mates were sending naked pictures to girls and expecting one back. They all shared the pictures.
I was furious and explained how wrong it was to exploit young girls.
What shocked me most was how casual Tom was about it.
He couldn?셳 understand why I felt it was a big deal.
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Bullying of worst kind
SINGLE mum Jennifer is from East Yorks and works in PR. She is mum to Kelly, 13.
Jennifer says: Kelly was always an open, bubbly girl but, six months ago, she became withdrawn and was spending hours in her bedroom.
She used to have friends round but that stopped. She was weepy and didn?셳 want to go to school.
I asked what was wrong and, for two months, she insisted nothing was. One day, she came home in floods of tears and it all came out.
A boy had been badgering her for a topless picture and she finally agreed as she really liked him and he?셝 promised to go out with her.
He?셝 shown his friends the snap and they laughed.
Other girls called her a slag. It broke her.
We had a long talk about sexting, I showed her the NSPCC website and suggested we see her headteacher.
I was seething and wanted to report the boy but Kelly begged me not to, saying it would make everything much worse and she just wanted it all to go away.
She was so upset, I agreed.
It?셲 bullying of the worst kind. Boys tell girls everyone does it and they?셱e no fun if they won?셳. But when they do, they?셱e ostracised.