“My daughter definitely hasn’t been asked to send nude pictures to boys,” said one mom at a recent MEDIAGIRLS parent talk. “It’s not a thing at our school,” said another mom. “Wait, what are ‘nudes?!’” asked a dad looking appalled.
“Nudes” are sexually explicit pictures or videos – taken fully or partially naked – that are then sent to someone else. Getting asked to send nudes has become a common occurrence for teens. According to The Girls’ Index 2017 Report, 75% of girls are asked to send a sexually explicit photo of themselves by the end of high school. More and more in our programming, girls as young as age 11 or 12 say they have been asked to send a nude by a boy.
So, we can keep saying “not my girl” and ignore the epidemic, or we can do all we can to prevent this from happening by having direct discussions with teens and preteens in our lives: girls and boys. Sending and requesting nudes is not only totally unacceptable, but the consequences can be dire.
When to have this talk, and how do you start?
Ideally, you will have this conversation before your girl gets a cell phone, and we suggest including information in a social-media contract that spells out your guidelines for her social media usage. In our MEDIAGIRLS sample contract, we point out: “I will not send any pictures of myself partially or fully naked to anyone, and I understand there is no guarantee of privacy when it comes to nudes.” That said, if your girl already has a phone…the answer is to talk with as soon as possible. It is never too late!
Plan a discussion time when she’s most likely to be open and relaxed—not while she’s rushing to get to school or about to head to a friend’s house. A good entry into this conversation, “I was reading an article about nudes today and wondering what you know about them?” If the answer is a blank stare” or “Ew,” that’s your starting place. You can say, “Some kids are using social media to share nudes with other people, and I’d like to talk about it with you.”
She may add, “Gross” or “I would never do that,” or, “Yeah, I know.” You may even get, “I don’t think it’s a huge deal if a girl likes a guy and it’s just between them.” Brace yourself for anything and take a deep breath. Next question from you: “Got it. Can you tell me more about how your thoughts on nudes? What if a friend confessed to you that she’s thinking about sending one?” Making it about a hypothetical friend, rather than your girl, can make this conversation easier for you and for her.
Talk about the consequences
When this part of the conversation hits a lull, ask your girl why she thinks many young women are sending nudes to boys, and what could go potentially wrong if they do. She may roll her eyes and say, “I KNOW what the consequences are!” Take yet another breath and don’t get sidetracked by telling her you don’t like her tone. Stay on course by saying, “Good. I’d really like to hear your thoughts.”
After she shares her initial thoughts, you can share your own concerns. It may be best to phrase your anxieties in the form of questions. (For example, “Do you think your friend would feel betrayed if the boy sent her pictures to his friends?”) This whole conversation will only be effective if maintain a calm and curious tone. As panicked as you may feel, do not show it.
Make sure that included in this conversation about consequences is the worst-case scenario: a girl sending a picture to a boy who then shares the pictures with his friends who continue to share it until it is forwarded throughout the entire grade. How would that feel?
Ask her whether sharing nudes are “more okay” if a guy is “nice” and “promises not to share with anyone.” The answer, as you clearly know (but she may not), is no. What if he can’t resist showing his friends? What if he loses his phone? What if a friend grabs his friends and starts scrolling through his messages? The only way a girl can guarantee others are not seeing her naked self is to not ever send these images.
Stay supportive rather than shaming
It’s important to spell out that girls who send nudes are not “bad” or “desperate.” They are, most likely, feeling pressured to do so. Perhaps they want to be considered attractive at a time when they are most insecure. Perhaps they don’t want to be labeled “boring” or “a prude.” Perhaps they long for connection and believe the boy who says, “This will make us closer.” Perhaps they are feeling a relationship crumbling and feel that this is the only way to maintain their significant other’s affection. Perhaps it’s a combination of these.
This is an ideal time to talk to girls about how to create true intimacy and trust in a relationship. We want our girls to seek out friends and partners who treat them respectfully and would never put them in a situation that could end with them in harm’s way. We want them to spend their time with someone who cares for them and has their best interest at heart. This is what all of our girls deserve.
Finally, if your girl confesses that she has sent a nude but won’t again, assure her that you still love and respect her. Even though it’s hard to hear, shaming your daughter will only ensure that she won’t come to you the next time she makes a bad decision and is feeling anxious or humiliated. The goal here is to help her learn from her mistakes so she can make better choices moving forward while feeling safe and supported by you.