Bay of Plenty children as young as 6 sharing explicit photographs of themselves online have prompted police warnings for parents to keep a closer watch on their offspring.
Western Bay of Plenty Detective Sergeant Darryl Brazier said the issue of young people sending nude selfies or posting explicit images online was a regular issue.
Officers were currently dealing with a case involving a 7-year-old, Brazier said.
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The youngest child in the Western Bay sharing explicit or inappropriate images that police were aware of was just 6 years old.
"This could have a huge, lasting impact on those children," Brazier said.
"As soon as they hit the send button, they lose all control over who can see that."
Brazier said children often had no idea of the consequences of their actions, which could be inspired by seeing their role models do likewise.
"We are very aware that they see things that other people have posted."
Brazier said there was not much police could do once an image or video was published online other than talk to the child and their parents.
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The ripple effect from sending such selfies online was "huge" on the child and everyone they knew, he said.
"Of course, we know there are people trolling YouTube and other sites all the time looking for objectionable images.
"There's a responsibility of parents who have children who have access to the internet or devices that have the ability to post online."
In Rotorua, area prevention manager Inspector Brendon Keenan said it was not only teenagers "but pre-teens who [are] placing themselves at risk by engaging in this type of behaviour".
Keenan encouraged parents to have regular conversations with their children from an early age about online risks and the danger of posting material on the Internet.
Kaitao Intermediate principal Philip Palfrey said some parents took no notice of their children's activities "so of course they [children] are doing it".
"It's a stupid, dumb thing to do. Because they are so young, their parents are the ones who need to control it. The problem is so many parents think their children are darling little angels doing nothing wrong until they are confronted with evidence."
Palfrey said he believed children shared such images for a "vicarious thrill".
"They think it's daring and fun until they realise it isn't. They could be playing into the hands of paedophiles. Real criminals are able to access [images] and cause their families some grief."
Mount Maunganui Intermediate principal Lisa Morresey said sharing of such images was not an issue at her school but she was aware of online risks.
The school regularly taught educational programmes on online safety including "think before posting" and "not having followers you don't know".
"We do a lot of work in this area."
The warnings come as Hawke's Bay police reveal a "quite alarming" increase in the behaviour.
Detective Sergeant Heath Jones referred to a recent case involving an 8-year-old with unrestricted access to the internet who posted nude pictures of themselves and uploaded them to YouTube.
The child had no real understanding of the consequences, he said.
Jones said children in Years 7, 8, 9 and 10 were most vulnerable and some had easy access to hardcore pornography which was "warping their view of what is normal".
Anti-pornography scholar Professor Gail Dines said girls, in particular, needed to understand how this behaviour, including sexting, could upend their lives.
"When that image gets out, that girl's life is basically over in terms of her peer group. We just have so many cases of this, so it's never too early to teach your kids about privacy and about bodily integrity.
"When you just look at the selfies and you see the expressions the girls pull, the so-called 'duck lips', you can see these are coming right out of porn culture."
What can parents do?
- Talk to your children, have conversations about online risks
- Keep watch of a child's use of social media and devices
- Establish device-free zones for older children
- Visit websites such as NetSafe, ConnectSmart and The Light Project which offers advice regarding online safety
Source - NZ Police
- Additional reporting NZME