One in four Irish children has taken part in 'sexting'

Texting is now something that older people do.

Clodagh Sheehy

THE spiralling problem of children "sexting" has prompted a leading psychologist to call for guidance on this issue in a new sex education programme planned for schools next autumn.

Forensic psychologist Dr Maureen Griffin says one in four children in this country send or receive these sexually explicit photograph and text messages, and children as young as 10 are involved.

The Department of Education has confirmed it is developing a programme for junior and senior second-level students on "personal safety".

Now Dr Griffin wants to ensure that sexting is included in the programme.

She says it is extremely important that this issue is covered in the lesson plan.

Her call follows moves in the UK, where Education Secretary Michael Gove has bowed to pressure from teachers, parents and sexual health experts to update sex education in schools to include the dangers of online pornography and sexting.

Dr Griffin stressed that while parents have a primary role in monitoring their children's phone use, schools are increasingly being faced with the problems.

Sexting, along with phone and internet pornography, is "rife among school children from third class upwards and sometimes even younger," said Dr Griffin, whose company, Internet Safety for Schools, delivers programmes covering the whole area of cyber-bullying.

She said that children and teenagers using social media like Snapchat "don't understand the wider implications of what they are doing.

"They think once they send the picture it's gone and don't understand that someone can take a screenshot ... and send it on.


"They are distanced from sending these pictures because they are only pushing buttons on their phone and it removes them from thinking about the consequences".

She added: "Everyone knows what to do if a man with a bag of sweets comes up and asks you to get into his car -- but we need to break down the distance technology creates."

The psychologist emphasises that "education is key" in helping young people to deal with peer pressure, giving them the tools to block and deal with sexting when it happens, but also reassuring them that they have the right to say "No".