With a few angry finger jabs to her home screen she shut off her phone, shoved it into her backpack, and looked out the car window.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Nothing. It’s gross.”
I know my daughter well enough to know that she will talk when she’s ready if I respect her enough to drop the subject now. She later told me what my heart already suspected.
“I can’t believe he asked me to send him a picture—a nude one,” she said while we were loading the dishwasher that night. The other details followed. Not only did she not know the classmate very well, he asked the question so casually it made her feel invisible, almost worthless.
“I don’t get it, mom, why are boys such a-holes? You try to make new friends and get to know someone then bam—out of the blue—a they ask a dumb question like this,” she said now with tears filling her eyes.
“I’m so sorry, honey. Maybe you could look at it as a gift; a way of fast forwarding and weeding out the creeps from the keepers,” I said.
“I get it, mom. No pep talk, please,” she said.
“So how do you want to handle it?” I asked.
“I took care of it, don’t worry,” she said. She smirked, wiped her eyes, and showed me her phone as if it were a badge of honor. “When we were at the store earlier, I took a photo of a bunch of nude lipsticks and sent it to him. I also told him not to bother texting me again.”
It seemed as if every sigh I had collected over the past few years released at that moment.
She handled it. And she handled it well. In fact, she handled it better than I think I would have and I told her that.
Now all she needed was some TLC and quiet nods of agreement as she ranted.
I just listened (and resisted the urge to ask a million other questions).
I also tried not to dive into a pit of worry over the possibility of future episodes. I was just grateful that today, this situation was tackled by a savvy teen whose wisdom showed strong—even shined—in the moment.
Sadly, teen boys asking girls for “nudes” (and vice versa in some circumstances), while shocking to parents, is today viewed as the new first base. According to a 2012 study in the Journal of Pediatrics, sexting is the new norm among adolescents.
It’s disturbing (even nauseating) to think your child could be asking for pictures or sending them, but if you have a tween or teen, it’s a discussion worth having.
Family Talking Points
• Be response-ready. It’s important to discuss what to do if asked for a nude photo. First, ask your teen what he or she thinks is a good response. Discuss options such as deflecting the request with humor (mixed with firmness) and how to handle the friendship in the future. Also, discuss what to if a request gets demeaning, shaming, or threatening.
• Persuasion tactics. If you have a daughter, make sure she recognizes the sly
lines of persuasion and pressure guys will use. They might minimize the severity of nude photos and say, “Carrie always sent me pictures, what’s the problem? Everyone does it. It’s no big deal.” They might use flattery and say, “You do have a great body. You should be a model, you know? I bet you could do some bikini stuff, send me a pic in your underwear and let’s see.”
• Prevention. The photo conversation is a great time to talk about healthy sexual behaviors, personal values, and abstinence or protection with your teen. Discuss sexual expectations, boundaries, and how to handle difficult situations. Candidly discuss the fact that other people’s values and boundaries will not always match your child’s.
• People change. If your teen is in a more serious relationship, remind them that people and circumstances change. Promises get broken, no matter where the trust might be at the moment.
• Sextoration. After a breakup, as a bullying tactic, or predator strategy, nude photos are one of the #1 ways to extort others. Often sextortion includes asking for more nudes, wrecking reputations, or even requiring unlawful acts. Sextortion is real and can end in horrific consequences for some teens when the shame, guilt and humiliation associated with is simply too much to handle. Discuss this with your kids.
• Surrendered control. Once you send an inappropriate photo, you lose all control. If a phone is stolen or lost, photos can get leaked. Anytime you send a risky photo; it is up for grabs—forever, which puts your reputation, self-worth, and even future goals at risk.
• It’s illegal. Sending photos via electronic devices while under 18 is illegal. Both parties can be charged with exploitation of a minor and possession of pornography, which could mean jail time and having to be registered as a sex offender. In a 2013 case in California over a dozen teen girls sent their boyfriends photos that ended up being circulated to seven different high schools.
This is a shocking topic for a parent to take in, no doubt. My heart is still reeling just knowing the same phone my daughter uses to text me and do her homework on is also the one that opens up a door to misguided peers. However, you can trust your child to handle him or herself responsibly if you keep the conversation flowing in your home.
Has this issue come up in your family? How have you handled it?
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