'I was fine with my 13yo daughter having socials. Then she showed me the messages.'

Making dinner for my four children after a busy day at work, I couldn't help but notice my daughter's phone lying on the kitchen bench buzzing to life with message after message.

It was relentless and, while I was tempted to have a sneaky read as each one briefly flashed up on her locked screen, I reminded myself how important privacy is for teenagers. I need my daughter to trust me as we start to navigate the potentially emotional years ahead.

Giving Caja her own phone and then later social media wasn't something I had taken lightly. I'd set data limits, time limits, activated security settings and sat her down to talk about online stranger danger and the importance of appropriate posting. "It's out there forever, you know," I'd warn. Even then, I knew she didn't really comprehend the gravity of it.

Watch: The impact of social media on teens. Post continues after video.

Video via YouTube/ABC News.

But on the other hand, I didn't want her to feel left out. Most of her friends had been given a phone a year before and technology is the main form of communication these days. Just because I'd prefer there to be more hanging out in person, it doesn't mean it's going to happen.


It wasn't until months later, when a TikTok trend, 'I love getting sweet messages' started to go viral with teenagers sharing the creepy DMs they'd received, that I realised just how dark and dangerous it really is.

It was Caja who told me about the trend in the same nonchalant way she let me know she was going to do a Taylor Swift outfit reveal.

To her, it was equal parts funny and gross, but not dangerous and likely illegal. 

When I saw the messages, I was horrified. One read: 

"Would you send nudes if I paid," followed by a screenshot of his Australian bank account balance. "I will pay you $300 to make me cum send another?"

A screenshot from Caja's phone, who has been receiving unsolicited DMs from men. Image: Supplied.


And it didn't stop there. 

"What's the colour of your underwear?"

"What colour is you pee?"

"You should s11t on my f@ce"

A screenshot from Caja's phone, who has been receiving unsolicited DMs from men. Image: Supplied.


And when she didn't respond with the desired photos"

"I want to kill myself."

 "Can you please help?"

"I'm killing myself now."

"Good luck when the police come for you."

A screenshot from Caja's phone. Image: Supplied.


The fact she wasn't that bothered made me as concerned as I'd have been if she was upset or scared.  

I have no idea who is behind these messages, whether they are teens or grown men. Are they even strangers or do we actually know them?

But she's desensitised. Friends had received similar messages, girls on TikTok are posting ones that are way worse. 

I didn't ban it. I didn't freak out and start making it the big deal I knew it was. Instead, I gasped along with her. Rolled my eyes at their various attempts to extract illicit photos of a minor. A young girl. My girl.

I at least felt safe in the knowledge she shared them with me and while I could see she had initially replied to a couple, she wasn't engaging.

Instead, I realised she was just like every other female having to navigate sexist, problematic men, giving out unwanted attention and making demands on her body.

"Good practice for when she gets a job," I thought. "Learn those vital life skills early."

And honestly, as sad as that may sound, I'm a realist and I can't imagine she won't come across it again.


But I absolutely worry about the girls who are not sharing their DMs, who may have engaged and are now so deep into something dangerous they don't know how to stop it.

For these reasons and others, I support the proposed ban on under-16s accessing social media. 

Listen to Help! I Have A Teenager where we tackle a common dilemma: what to do when your tween asks for a phone? And how young is too young? Post continues after audio.

Caja, who is now 16, supports it too. 

But I also know that kids are so tech-savvy and they will find ways to get around it. I certainly don't support sending proof of ID to social media platforms so I am yet to see how it can be regulated.

So for me, when my three sons reach that time, I will still be educating them on their safety online with a specific focus on unsolicited DMs, especially from them.

Jonica Bray is a Journalist and proud adoptive mum. You can follow her on Instagram @the.wandertwins.

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.

Feature image: Supplied.

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