You’ve done everything right by your teenaged children. You have discussed alcohol, sex, drugs, and the dangers of social media. Sparing no details, you’ve outlined consequences and the fragility of reputation.
You’ve watched as other families faced scandal, the whispers spooling through your brain, a mantra promising to protect what you’ve created.
You think: “That would never happen in our house. We’re good parents. They’re good kids.”
But then it happens. To your child. Your good child. And suddenly, all the lessons and all the lectures spiral down the drain.
Having a Video Go Viral
I’ve seen social media mistakes destroy families – both where I reside and across the country. I have witnessed firsthand these lapses in judgment and the visceral reactions by parents and peers.
What’s stayed with me is not just the frequency these events occur, but instead, the lack of support and empathy for the “victim” — and our general unwillingness to understand why and how this happens.
That’s why I wrote Somebody’s Daughter. The Ross family faces their worst nightmare when fifteen-year-old daughter, Zoe, is recorded in a sexual act video, which they are alarmed to see go viral. The ripple effect is widespread.
My initial reaction to anyone who found themselves trapped in a digital media nightmare was probably like yours: How dumb could they be?
Dealing with the Fallout
But I came to understand the many sides to this conversation and more importantly, how to mitigate the fallout when online sharing turns ugly. Here’s what parents should know:
1. It happens more than you think. Nearly 40% of all teenagers have posted or sent sexually suggestive messages. 22% of teen girls and 18% of teen boys report sending semi-nude or nude photos. 1 in 10 teenagers has either been threatened or victimized with nonconsensual image sharing.*
2. Sexting is a crime. Sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit photos or videos is considered by law child pornography. Filming a teenager consensually or surreptitiously is also a crime. Further, anyone over 18 who even looks at said material can be charged and forced to register as a sexual predator—for life.
Educate your teens on the legal repercussions of sexting. While digital technology has modified the playing field, laws are always changing to meet the severity of the crime. Being a minor no longer protects your teen from cybersexual bullying or harassment charges.
3. Seeking affirmation online. Some teens see nothing wrong with sexual experimentation in the digital age, and for many, each view becomes a validation of their self-confidence.
There’s an emotional crisis in our country, however, when swipes and likes equate to self-esteem. Online sharing is a practice we can’t always monitor or reduce, but we can provide this generation with the tools to understand the desire to post the most intimate details of their life online.
Know what your teen is putting on social media through access and realistic monitoring tools. Talk to your son or daughter about confidence from within and ways to get there without exploitation.
In a perfect world, our teens would never share explicit pictures, drink alcohol, or experiment with drugs. Despite our best efforts, however, some behaviors are beyond our control. Motivated teens will find a way, so sometimes we need to offer solutions that will keep kids safe.
“If teens are compelled to take and share provocative photos,” says Elisa D’Amico, co-founder of the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project, “At the very least, they should cover their face and any distinguishing characteristics, such as birthmarks or tattoos that could make them identifiable target for online trolls. Cover the camera on your computer and don’t allow anyone access to your digital passwords, as they could obtain all your photos and private messages.”
Teenage reckless behavior is wrought with teachable moments, and compassion goes a long way.
We’re all just parents trying to figure it out as we go. When one of our warriors stumble, let’s remember that Somebody’s Daughter could be any one of our own.
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. “Teenage Sexting Statistics.” GuardChild.
National Institute of Justice. “Much Ado About Sexting.” National Criminal Justice Reference Service.