Parents need to know that mobile phones have replaced bike sheds as the new way for children to explore sex, according to an expert in child studies.
Children can easily access explicit pornography on mobile phones and share intimate pictures, says Dr Emma Bond, a childhood and youth studies academic.
Dr Bond warns that adults “need to take our heads out of the sand” about what is happening to young, impressionable children.
“The research shows how children are using mobile phones in obtaining sexual material, developing their sexual identities and in their intimate relationships with each other”, she added.
Dr Bond, who is a senior lecturer at University Campus Suffolk in Ipswich, said: “The bike shed offers a useful metaphor as a generation or so ago teenagers used to go ‘behind the bike shed’ to find a space where they could embark on exploring each others bodies or get hold of pornography.
“Today it is very different and incredibly easy for young people to take intimate images of themselves and send them to someone else via a text message or via the internet all in a few seconds and all from their mobile phone.
“There’s hardly time to reflect and think that this may not be such a good idea.”
Dr Bond, whose findings will be published in the next edition of international journal New Media & Society, pointed to the traumatic experiences of one young girl.
She said: “One girl told me how a girl in her class had taken what she described as ‘revealing photographs’ of herself and sent them to her boyfriend. But when they split up he sent them to everyone else in the class.
“These experiences can clearly be very traumatic for young people but it is often not until it happens, or happens to someone close to them, that they actually realise the potential consequences of their actions.”
She warned: “We need to take our head out of the sand and talk to children and young people about what they are doing with their mobile phones and in virtual environments.”
In October a BBC Radio 4 documentary uncovered a hidden world of teenagers, sex and porn, during an investigation into a disturbing playground craze involving coloured wristbands and sexual acts between children.
Miranda Sawyer, the show’s presenter, warned: “What used to be top shelf and over-18s only is just a mouse click away for today’s sexually curious teen.”
Earlier last year teenage girls hit out at modern liberal mums who do little to protect them from ‘pornified’ boys.
Journalist Penny Marshall, writing for the Daily Mail, disclosed harrowing stories of young girls who say sexual demands from teenage boyfriends are often both “disturbing and upsetting”.
Miss Marshall said all the girls she interviewed were certain their boyfriends’ demands were being fuelled by what they were watching online: hardcore, explicit porn.
John Carr, head of the Children’s Coalition on Child Internet Safety, pointed out that pornographic content is available in more places than just the internet.
“Kids can get it on their mobile phones, through their TV sets and iPods”, he said.
Mr Carr added: “Tragically, porn has never been easier to access.”