Concern is growing about increased pressures on teenagers to engage in risky behaviour such as sending sexually explicit text messages.
Celebrity culture, the prevalence of sexual imagery and a lack of awareness about the consequences are among the pressures experts say are being piled on teenagers.
Parents are now being called on to educate themselves about the risks their children are being exposed to in the same way as they inform themselves about drink and drugs.
The issue has been raised by forensic psychologist Dr Maureen Griffin addressing a child protection conference.
One in four teenagers who responded to a survey admitted sending sexual images of themselves by mobile phone, Dr Griffin revealed.
Secondary school pupils are being surrounded by sexual imagery and are being pressurised to send provocative messages, the psychologist warned.
As part of the worrying trend, children as young as 10 are copying lewd celebrity culture by swapping naked pictures of themselves via mobile phone.
But parents are often oblivious to the dangers of 'sexting' – a relatively new phenomenon which involves sending nude or semi-nude photographs, messages or video clips via a phone or the internet. Dr Griffin, director of Internet Safety for Schools Ireland, said parents must educate themselves on the risks to warn children about the dangers.
She said teenagers, particularly girls, would admit they were facing pressures to send provocative messages.
She called for it to be addressed as part of sex education in schools.
Dr Griffin, who has given talks on the subject at over 300 schools, said she had encountered cases where children as young as 10 were engaged in sex texts.
The psychologist warned that many vulnerable young people could be negatively influenced by the behaviour of celebrities posting semi-naked pictures of themselves online.
"They see it happening with the stars. Particularly with stars whose careers are about to flop. Miraculously a naked picture of them appears in the media and the spotlight is back on them straight away and they are getting interviews and are being written about," she said.
The ISPCC's Catherine O'Donohoe said many teenagers did not fully understand the "repercussions" or where their images could end up.
"It is only when they have to face the consequences that they realise the impact," she said.
Chief executive Mary Flaherty of Children at Risk in Ireland (CARI) warned they were getting increasing referrals for children with "overly" sexually explicit behaviour at young ages, which would have traditionally been associated with abuse victims.
"Over the last five or six years we have been getting referrals where there is no history of abuse," she said, with a third of calls to CARI's helpline on sexualised behaviour.
"It is happening at very young ages. We've highlighted increasing numbers of rapes and sexual assaults in teens with some very serious behaviours, even at primary school level."
Ms Flaherty said young people were surrounded by sexually overt images on the internet, video games and music videos.
The State's child protection expert, Geoffrey Shannon, said such incidents could have "profound effects" and the law must keep pace with technology.
- Georgina O'Halloran and Louise Hogan