I am the mother of three teenage girls... 19, 16, and 14. What I'm going to share with you is not a new epidemic, but has been going on for years. What I'm seeing is an infiltration of this issue at a younger age, and it's becoming more wide-spread and commonplace. So, here we go... let's talk nudes.
Get savvy now. I know wayyyy too many parents that have zero knowledge about technology. Even if you think technology is evil, overwhelming, and not important, the truth is, your kids don't see it that way. So, it is YOUR responsibility to get up on that s**t pronto and school yourself. Reach out to other parents who are tech savvy, watch YouTube videos... do what you need to do to understand how various apps work. The biggest to know about is Snapchat. Why? This is the main way teens communicate, and pretty much is not traceable. They can do or say what they want. It shows up and then it's gone. ALSO, there are spam accounts, private stories and private accounts. What does this mean? Kids can set up more than one account (this goes for Instagram too), where one may be public and cutsie pics, and the other is private and you have to get permission to follow the page. This is where the nude shots live. Don't get me wrong, kids can take pics, direct message (DM) them within an app, or text them. Regardless of how they do it, it is happening. And, it's not just with the "bad" kids. The star athletes and top students send them. It has become a standard, a commonplace practice for kids. They have become completely desensitized to sex and nudity because it is everywhere, which leads me to another topic... do you have a sense of what your kids are watching on YouTube, Instagram (IG), streaming? Because technology of all kinds is so accessible, it makes it a challenge to keep tabs on every single thing your kids put eyes on. I get it. But, it is important to know as much as possible. Granted, I do not believe, because of this very reason, that you can control every single thing your kids see or do. That in itself can be a full-time job. What can you do? School yourself. Be aware. Have those very frank conversations with your kids that may be uncomfortable—to the point where they are also commonplace and become comfortable dialogue between you.
Why is this important? I promise you that girls ages 10+ are being asked to provide nudes, butt pics, boob pics. Don't get me wrong, boys are being asked for similar pics too. It's part of the dialogue between kids, especially as they are flirting or "talking" (pre-dating). This is so common, you would probably find it shocking. And, when kids get the pics they request, they share them with their entire circle! It goes without saying that this opens doors to body shaming, bullying, embarrassment, and so much more. This is happening every day in every school—I promise you.
Also, social media predators and sex trafficking are at an all-time high, and this stuff is happening in your community. You must be vigilant about protecting your kids. Don't think this stuff just happens in the news in other areas. Know how I know? My girls and I were targeted at our local Walmart (we live in a good area) by two different groups of men. We did our research and found out that there were countless incidences of this happening at this very store! Sex trafficking is a HUGE moneymaker. It is so easy for these monsters to find people on social media and in person to make their prey.
What can be done? Here are things you can do today that will help you keep better tabs on phone "stuff" and keep your kids safe:
- Put parameters on their phone usage. Examples include: no phones at the dinner table; no phones during family time; no phones in the bathroom; no phones in the bedroom; no phones after xxx time. You have to do what works for you, but it can be done.
- Get full access to their stuff. You are the parent, so get the login information from them and check on their activity. Yes, I do know that kids can delete stuff so you can't see it. I do know that kids will create spam accounts you don't know about. But, I would venture to say you pay for the phone, and if you do, technically it's yours. Monitor it.
- Turn off their locations setting. This makes them less easy to locate by social predators.
- Make their accounts private so they have to give permission to those who want to follow them.
- School them. Kids think they know everything, but what they fail to remember is that people lie. It is VERY EASY to set up a fake account with a fake picture, reach out to pretty girls, and sweet talk them to gain access to them. This is exactly what predators do. Remind your kids that just because someone says they are who they are or looks a certain way does not mean that is who they are. Predators are opportunistic and probably more savvy than your kids when it comes to technology. They will do everything to find a way to reach the people they want. Encourage your kids to be VERY selective about who they allow to follow them on social.
- Share my post with them, Let's Talk Nudes: For the Kids. If you don't know what to say, this will at least help shape the conversation.
Being a kid today is an entirely different experience from when you and I were growing up. One big reason is around technology. While it makes our lives easier, it opens up a whole new world to our babies that involves sexual imagery, body shaming, cyberbullying, sex trafficking, and sexual predators, and really puts pressure on kids to be adult-like, when their brains and maturity level are not yet developed to handle the responsibility to go along with that. This makes parenting especially challenging in an ever-changing world. But, we must do all we can to make sure our children are educated on social, make wise decisions, and know that we are there for all of it. Do your work and protect your kiddos.