Pro-active parents must talk to their children about the types of “good pictures” and “bad pictures” that can be taken of them and shared digitally. Here’s some great information to help parents protect their kids’ digital footprint (and two rules to keep them out of trouble). 

Two Girls Taking Selfie With Mobile PhoneMy Awakening

My first reaction was disbelief. Why would teenage girls think it was a good idea to take pictures of one another wearing only bras? But this was precisely what happened several years ago during an overnight “girls only” activity at a supervised church event. One of the girls confided in me that late at night they were acting silly and decided to take pictures of one another using their cell phones.

None of the girls thought it was a big deal.sleepover

However, I thought it was a big deal! I immediately talked with my daughter, only 7 years old at the time, and pleaded with her to NEVER EVER let anyone take a picture of her (including herself) that she would not want a teacher or grandparent to see.

A year or two after this event, I heard the word “sexting” for the first time. A study published in 2012 in the  Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that 28 per cent of high school students had sent sexually explicit messages via their cell phones. More than half of the students surveyed had been asked for a nude photo!

What I’ve Learned about the Modern Teenage and Tweenage Worlds

  1. Kids are much more comfortable having their picture taken than I was as a teenager. For them, taking “selfies” and photos of others is as second nature as getting up to answer a phone (attached to the wall) was for me.
  2. Many teens don’t view sexting as risky because it’s so common. They know teens who sext and haven’t suffered any negative consequences.
  3. Often girls feel like they must compete with porn or they might lose their boyfriend. For many kids, it’s an important form of social currency. Jennifer Lawrence has exacerbated this fear by suggesting to girls, “Your Boyfriend Is Going To Look At Porn Or He’s Going To Look At You.”

What Kids Need to Know About Sharing Nude and Semi-Nude Photos

  1. Any nude photo of a minor (no matter who takes the picture) may be considered child pornography and anyone found possessing it may be subject to prosecution. Parents, who own their child’s phone, can be prosecuted for possession of child pornography, a felony offence.
  2. Sharing nude photos may have serious psychological consequences, with some therapists warning that the psychological scars of sexting are akin to the post-traumatic stress of rape.
  3. Nothing on the internet is private. Everything on the internet is permanent. Once a digital photo is taken and is transmitted via the Internet to any type of digital storage, it can be accessible to hackers. Nothing is actually deleted and “no photo or video is truly temporary, even on Snapchat.” The internet is archived and tools, such as the WayBackMachine, allow people to see web pages as they appeared in the past. Besides this, apps and third party websites whose purpose is to save photos can be hacked.

Family playing with Tablet computer at homeStart Early to Shape Attitudes

Parents often worry about ruining a child’s innocence by bringing up issues like pornography and sexting, but I fervently believe in the adage, “Talk early and talk often.” Age compression is a social trend that has younger and younger kids acting like teens long before they reach their teen years. Whatever unhealthy (or illegal) trend is happening in the teenage or tweenage world, younger kids need to be prepared to reject it well before the moment of decision arrives.

Two Essential Rules to Repeat to Kids

  1. Never take or allow anyone to take a photo of you in your underwear or without clothes on. Only take photos that you would let anyone see.
  2. If someone asks you for or sends you a nude photo, always tell a trusted adult right away.

Have you talked to your kids about the types of pictures they should be sharing? Have they already begun to form a digital footprint? We’d love to hear your ideas, experiences and questions so leave us a comment!

Claudine Gallacher
Claudine Gallacher, MA, is the Social Media Guru at Protect Young Minds and was the writing coach for Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids. Claudine is enthusiastic about teaching parents how to empower kids with the skills they need to reject pornography. To reach parents, she writes, researches, edits, speaks, and markets. Claudine is married and has three great kids who support her work. Contact Claudine on Twitter @ProtectYM or email claudine@protectyoungminds.org.
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