'This is a huge child protection issue' - ISPCC warns of increase of Irish teens sending nude photos online and how to combat it
Grainia Long - CEO of the ISPCC - has called the increase in numbers of Irish teenagers sending nude selfies a "huge child protection issue" and has offered parents advice on how to combat it.
"It's something we're really concerned about," she revealed to the Anton Savage Show.
"Young girls are feeling pressure to take nude photos of themselves and are sending them on to guys.
Grainia explained that in the last few weeks the number of calls the ISPCC are receiving about the issue has increased.
"Younger children don't understand the implications of when they share that information online... where does it go, who gets to see it and what do people get to do with it?"
The ISPCC ar encouraging parents to familiarise themselves with technology and understand how easily images can be copied and shared.
"Children are really worried and sometimes they're embarrassed or ashamed," she explained.
"They've shared something innocently and it's gone much further."
The ISPCC said that in the past getting calls from children as young as 13 and 14 was the exceptio. However, the age of callers has gotten younger and they're now speaking to worried 11 and 12-year-olds.
"They are the exception but it is increasing, we've noticed a growth in number of calls from 11 and 12-year-olds.
"They don't understand the implications of what happens next. Most children who are sending photos that young are doing so very innocently and are not doing it for sexual purposes."
Grainne explained that most teenagers intend only for their partners to see the photos and don't realise that the images can be shared with multiple people online.
They find it hard to comprehend that someone they trust could use their intimate photos in that manner.
"The sense of betrayal they feel is awful," said Grainia.
"But it's sense of pressure that worries them the most. They think 'I have to do this because it's expected of me'."
The ISPCC help teenagers talk through their concerns and encourage them understand why they feel under pressure and what this says about their friend or partner who is asking them to send these photos.
The children's charity understands that there's a common belief amongst girls that sending nude selfies is the way to spark a boy's interest. Many teenage girls feel that this is the first step to developing a relationship.
It's now encouraging parents to talk to their children in an effort to dispel these beliefs.
"Ask them if they're worried and why they're worried. It is possible to talk to a child and help them understand the implications of sending these photos.
"Children get caught up in this and feel like they can't get out but if they're feeling under pressure they don't need to be."
Grainia said she's "amazed" by the number of parents who had no idea that their young children were at an age to be thinking about sex.
"Parents need to have an age-appropriate conversation with their children. Ask them who they talk with and what they share.
"It's not just a matter of taking laptops out of their hands. Children will find a way [to get online] because technology is everywhere. Once they start hiding things from you, there's a problem."
When children are exposed to celebrities such as Kylie Jenner and Miley Cyrus - stars who children admire - sharing nude and semi-nude photos online, it feeds into the new cultural phenomenon that sharing explicit images online is the norm.
However, Grainia believes that this "huge child protection issue" can be combated through good parenting.
"Keep coming back to the conversations. Be pro-active. All parents are grappling with this issue today.
"How much time do we want our children to spend online? It's not just about photos, it's also about personal information, including addresses, being shared. There are loads of risks and broader issues around grooming online.
"An open relationship with your kids should start when they are very young," she said.
If you are worried about the the information your child is sharing online, the ISPCC have a support team who can be contacted on 01 6767960 between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday.