Four out of ten 11 to 16-year-olds are aware of their classmates sending sexually explicit pictures of themselves to others despite knowing they are likely to be passed on, MPs and school leaders have heard.
Meanwhile, protestors have handed David Cameron a petition calling for an end to sexualised marketing aimed at children under the age of 16.
The current trend of children sending explicit pictures of themselves via their mobile phones is known as ‘sexting’.
According to research presented at the Westminster Education Forum last week four in ten children between the ages of 11 and 16 are aware of sexting taking place at their school.
And more than half of those who take part were aware that their pictures could be distributed further than the intended recipient.
Siobhan Freegard, from the parenting website Netmums, said: “In many cases young girls are persuaded to pose for these pictures by their boyfriends. They don’t appreciate what the consequences are.
“There is also a big element of desensitisation. They see the likes of Rihanna or Cheryl Cole parading in raunchy poses and they think they look fantastic.”
These concerns were echoed by Ken Corish, an internet safety expert, who said: “The proportion of young children ‘sexting’ is shocking. The driver of it is boys’ attitudes to online porn, which is now far too accessible.
“This raises the expectations of young males about what happens in a relationship. But it goes further because this survey shows we are now seeing a shift from youngsters accessing online content to creating it themselves.
“The root cause is not just online pornography. It is everywhere in society from the raunchy pop music videos to TV star Gok Wan persuading women to get their clothes off on his show.”
Last week a petition with more than 18,500 signatures was presented to 10 Downing Street as part of the Mothers’ Unions Bye Buy Childhood campaign.
The petition calls for the Government to prohibit sexualised media, marketing and products aimed at or easily accessible by children under the age of 16.
Rosemary Kempsell, worldwide president of the Mothers’ Union, said: “We are delighted that the Government has already taken action to tackle the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood through the Bailey Review.
“We would like to see this Review make strong recommendations to Government to ensure childhood can remain a precious time free from commercialisation.”
Earlier this year Dr Helen Wright, the head of a top independent girls’ school, expressed profound concern that the sexualisation of young girls is so prevalent across society and the media.
Dr Wright lamented that children – and even parents – seem to have no idea what is appropriate any more.
She mentioned actress Miley Cyrus, who started her career as wholesome Disney character Hannah Montana, yet is now subjecting her young female fanbase to a new sexualised image.
Dr Wright asserted that despite occasional backlashes from parents against their children being exposed to overly sexualised images, the idea of sexually available women as role models to aspire to has “slipped into mainstream society as almost the norm”.