Just this week a friend’s 13-year-old son was sent a naked image of his 13-year-old girlfriend. She sent it to him personally.
Another friend discovered a naked photo of her teenage son on his iPad and when she summoned the courage to talk to him about it he wasn’t in the least bit embarrassed. Conversely he was actually pretty proud of how good his body looked in the photo.
“I thought he’d be mortified that we found it,” she told me. “He shrugged and said to us “It’s no big deal.’”
Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.
I hear these stories about tweens and teens snapping naked pics and part of me wants to weep.
The other part of me wants to unplug the world’s wifi connection and scream “For the love of Ryan Reynolds, put the camera down and put your frickin’ clothes back on, people!”
Except what I’ve learnt in the last 24 hours is that that type of reaction may make a bad situation worse.
Nina Funnell, who is my go-to expert on anything to do with sex, consent and adolescent relationships (and also the co-author of Loveability: An Empowered Girls Guide to Dating and Relationships ), says that we need to park our outrage at the door and CALMLY work out how we’re going to navigate our kids through this sexting minefield.
So what do we do? Glad you asked.
1: We start an on-going conversation with our kids about CONSENT when they’re in kindergarten and primary school.
With primary school kids we talk about consent in terms of playing. The moment someone asks you to stop tickling, chasing or hugging them – then you stop. Because that friend is no longer having fun and is not giving you their consent – their OKAY – to keep going. We talk about consent in terms of touching other people’s belongings or other people touching your body. As kids get older this idea of consent becomes even more important. Do you have someone’s consent to share a story they told you in private?
Do you have someone’s consent to upload a photo to social media or to share a private photo that was for your eyes-only. And when it comes to sex consent is KEY. You can say NO at anytime during sex and no means no. And if someone has sex or tries to have sex with you without your consent (including if you’re asleep or intoxicated) it constitutes sexual assault.
- We explain the emotional, social and legal consequences of having and/or sharing a naked image of a minor on our phone/tablet/computer.
In her book Sexts, Texts and Selfies: how to keep your children safe in the digital space cyber-cop Susan McLean says it’s important that kids know it’s a criminal offence to take, possess or transmit (share via technology) a naked image of a young person under eighteen.
With the exception of Victoria, under both state and Commonwealth law these images are viewed as pornography. And while McLean says it’s clear our laws have not kept pace with our technology – right now someone charged with having a naked image of a minor on their phone could be charged with the same offences as a paedophile.
It’s important that kids and parents know their legal rights and responsibilities.
But it’s even more important that we talk kids through the emotional and social fall-out of images being shared online.
Let’s be clear: it’s never okay to share or forward a text message, photo or video without the consent of the author or subject of the video. It’s a dog-act particularly when the image is intimate. And it’s a violation of that person’s right to privacy.
To betray someone’s trust or to play a role in forwarding a private image, message or video is not just unkind but cruel. And we need to think through the repercussions for that person and how they would feel to know a private photo is “doing the rounds”.
But what if it’s your kid taking naked photos of themselves? Funnell says we must take care in how we speak to our kids about taking naked selfies. Making our kids feel ashamed means they won’t come to us for help.
Watch some friends of Mamamia speak about the best advice their mother ever gave them.
“Teenagers are often terrified that they will be blamed or shamed for an image they have already sent, and so many suffer in secret and refuse to tell their parents when their image is shared without consent” says Funnell. “Blaming them for taking an image will only humiliate them further and shield the perpetrator from responsibility. What teens in this situation need to know is that there is plan moving forward and they are not alone.”
Compassion is the key here. What’s done is done and our job as parents is to help our kids navigate the road ahead.
“Instead of saying ‘you’ll never get a job and no one will want to hire you’ help your child come up with a plan for how to deal with the situation if the image is ever mentioned in the playground/at an interview for a school leadership position/ by a future love interest. Listening to your child’s concerns and focusing on a strategy will help the teen feel less overwhelmed, powerless and alone.”
- If you do find your son or daughter with naked images on their phone –the key AGAIN is to keep calm.
So your son or daughter has a naked image on their phone? According to McLean stay calm and get as much information as possible. How and when did it happen? Who is involved? Where are the images now and who may have them. Stay calm and get the details.
Then contact the school (the counsellor, the homeroom teacher, the principal) and meet them to work out a plan. The school could be your greatest ally. (Although be aware that the school may have a legal responsibility to report to the police).
You can also contact The National Children’s and Youth Law Centre, who are experts in sexting and the law, and who can provide free legal advice for anyone under 18, or anyone acting on their behalf.
And lastly, make sure you child feels supported and book an appointment with an adolescent psychologist if needed.
Getting hysterical and threatening to cut off all internet access is only going to insure that your child never tells you anything. Get angry but don’t ban your kids from being online.
Raging hormones, first love, and a lack of judgement combined with an Internet connection? Well, it’s always going to create the perfect storm for teens.
Kids make bad judgement calls. Our role is to remind them that nothing ruins your life forever. And that being online comes with rights and responsibilities.
You can purchase Loveability: An Empowered Girl’s Guide to Dating and Relationships by Nina Funnell and Dannielle Miller here.
You can purchase Sexts, Texts and Selfies How to keep your children safe in the digital space by Susan McLean here.