The YouGov survey of 1,159 parents of school-aged children found that 78 per cent were concerned about their children sexting – more than were worried about either alcohol misuse or smoking.
And 87 per cent of parents believe that schools should be doing more to educate pupils about the risks involved in sexting.
Joe Hayman, chief executive of the PSHE Association, which commissioned the research, said: “The message from parents is loud and clear: they want their children educated on risks like sexting, in order to prevent them from doing something they could later regret.
“When young people share sexual images, they don’t know whose hands the photos will end up in, and they are often unaware that they are actually committing a criminal offence. They need to be educated about the risks of sexting.”
While parents were eager for schools to take steps to reduce pupils’ sexting, only 13 per cent of them believed that the best way to do this was for schools to report sexting pupils to the police. Instead, the majority was in favour of lessons for pupils on the dangers of sexting.
It is illegal to take or send an indecent image of a person under the age of 18, even if those involved are under 18 themselves. There have been cases in the UK where school-age children have had their names added to a police database for life, after they sent naked selfies.
A separate survey, conducted recently by the NASUWT teachers’ union, revealed that children as young as seven have been involved in sexting incidents.
Kirstie Allsopp, presenter of Location, Location, Location, has added her support to the call for lessons on the dangers of sexting.
“There are vital elements to do with sexual behaviour and peer pressure, which need to be discussed in school by qualified PSHE teachers,” she said. “This government’s objection to compulsory PSHE is disgraceful, and leaves kids at risk.”