Qualitative study of children, young people and 'sexting'

We asked researchers to conduct a small scale qualitative study to improve our understanding of sexting and the use of mobile technology by young people. This report details the research and their findings.

Sexting has been defined as the "exchange of sexual messages or images" and "creating, sharing and forwarding sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images" (see report for references).

In this study, the researchers listened to young people's views and experiences to gain an understanding of how sexually explicit texts and images are produced, circulated and used through mobile phones and the internet and how these practices shape the offline lives of young people.

The researchers conducted focus groups with 35 young people aged 12 to 14 years from inner city London schools. Participants were asked to become friends with the research team on Facebook so their activities online could be mapped.

Follow-up interviews were conducted with 22 of the focus group participants as well as with 4 teachers and 4 school support staff.

This research was conducted by the Institute of Education, King's College London, London School of Economics and Open University.

Authors: Jessica Ringrose, Rosalind Gill, Sonia Livingstone and Laura Harvey
Published: 2012

The findings reveal that sexting does not refer to a single activity but covers a range of activities experienced by young people.

The top messages from the research are:

  • the primary technology-related threat comes from peers, not 'stranger danger'
  • sexting is often coercive
  • girls are the most adversely affected
  • technology amplifies the problem by facilitating the objectification of girls
  • sexting reveals wider sexual pressures
  • ever younger children are affected
  • sexting practices are culturally specific
  • more support and resources are vital to redress the gendered sexual pressures on young people.

The research also sets out recommendations for schools, parents, internet service and site providers, child welfare professionals and future research.

Acknowledgements 5
Executive summary 6
Introduction 9
Methodology 19
Children, young people and sexting: data analysis 25
Conclusions 53
Appendices 61
References 71

Looking for something in particular?

Our Information Service can help you find the latest policy, practice and research in child protection.

Call 0808 800 5000 or help@nspcc.org.uk for more information.

Submit an enquiry

Other research and resources

Sexting: an exploration of practices, attitudes and influences

Findings from focus groups with young people, aged 13-14 years and 10-11 years in England.
Find out more

Experiences of 11-16 year olds on social networking sites

Describes experiences of 11-16 year olds on social networking sites and strategies used to deal with things that upset them online.
Find out more

Younger children and social networking sites: a blind spot

Research into the experiences of 11-12 year olds on social networking sites how to protect them.
Find out more

Boys and girls speak out: a qualitative study of children’s gender and sexual cultures

Research by Cardiff University looks at how younger children perceive gender, sexual identity and relationships. 
Find out more

CASPAR

Our Current Awareness Service for Practice, Policy And Research delivers free weekly email alerts to keep you up-to-date with all the latest safeguarding and child protection news.

CASPAR is currently being upgraded but you can still sign up by contacting our Information Service.

Sign up to CASPAR

Follow @NSPCCpro

Follow us on Twitter and keep up-to-date with all the latest news in child protection.

Follow @NSPCCpro on Twitter

Information Service

Our free service for people who work with children can help you find the latest policy, practice, research and news on child protection and related subjects.

For more information, call us or email help@nspcc.org.uk.

0808 800 5000

Submit an enquiry

Library catalogue

We hold the UK's largest collection of child protection resources and the only UK database specialising in published material on child protection, child abuse and child neglect.

Search the library

Training and consultancy

We train and support individuals and organisations, teaching them the skills and procedures that help keep children safe.
Find out more about training and consultancy

New in the Library

A free weekly email listing all of the new child protection publications added to our library collection.

New in the Library is currently being upgraded but you can still sign up by contacting our Information Service.

Sign up to New in the Library