How do I talk to a 16 year-old about the risks of sharing nudes online?
Dear Stop It Now!,
I heard about a 16 year old boy distributing indecent images of himself, alone, on the internet, over an app which is designed to delete them 10 seconds after viewing. I'm wondering what the problem is here. I know legally there is one, but how could this come back to bite him? I'd like to explain and try to reason with him but I am having a hard time figuring out how this could actually go wrong.
Dear Concerned Caregiving Adult,
It’s really great that you’re asking these questions as it’s so important for youth to have the tools they need to make healthy decisions. I’m glad you’ve reached out to us.
Yes, it certainly can be hard to know what to say when you learn that a youth is sending nude photos of themselves. It is helpful to understand that this type of behavior is not necessarily out of the ordinary this day in age, and in some ways is part of "normal" exploration for older teens – though that doesn’t mean we ignore it and certainly, we do want to encourage safe and respectful behaviors. By contrast, it’s really important, as you’re talking about, to share with him the risks of this behavior so he can continue to make the best decisions for himself (and others) as he grows.
Share with him that although he’s doing it in a potentially safer way (over an app that deletes the image after 10 seconds), there still is risk. He could be interacting with someone who screenshots one (or many) of his pictures, and once these photos are out of his hands, they’re out of his control as well. We don’t always know who is on the other end of a computer, and even friends and partners can sometimes betray our trust and share things that we wouldn’t want them to. People have been known to distribute nudes after a bitter breakup, or even out of no maliciousness at all – more because they weren’t thinking. Unfortunately there have been really catastrophic consequences for youth whose nude images get shared to friends, family or even their whole school. Though this type of bullying behavior is never okay, make sure you let him know that you don’t want him to go through that.
Though sharing these images feels very low-stakes to him, it’s possible they may end up online forever – on porn sites, viewed by adults or even by a potential employer. Though this isn't at all okay, he should be informed and even having these images of himself can be considered a crime here in the United States. I know this seems unfair, but it’s the truth. Here in the US, children have been arrested, charged and sentenced not only for having nude images given to them consensually by their peers, but for having images they took of themselves on their own phone. We are not sure of the laws in the UK; tyou may want to contact Stop It Now! UK for more specific information relevant to you around this.
However, knowing that these risks may not be enough to deter him - or any teenager - it is helpful to also provide information about how to do this in the safest way possible if he continues to share these images. Some of these ideas are taken from this article called It's 2020: Time to teach teens 'safe' sexting:
- Think about WHAT you’re showing in the photo; don’t include your face, use a blank/neutral background (don’t use your room), and be mindful of not including any identifying marks (like tattoos, piercings, moles and scars).
- Turn off your location services, and ensure that a geo-tag is not included on your image or the platform you’re sharing your image on.
- Make a pact with your friends that if you get a nude photo, you won’t share them with anyone else.
- Consider what you know before you hit send. Who will see this? Reflect on whether you would be okay if they sent this image to others, or potentially posted your image somewhere online. You can always wait to send an image, but you can’t take it back once it’s sent.
- Talk to a trusted adult if you’re ever sent an image against your consent, or anyone (youth or adult) is blackmailing or manipulating you into sending nude images of yourself or other people: you’ll never be in trouble.
- Make sure the person you're sending the picture to wants this photo and is something they are consenting to seeing.
This is all part of what we call safety planning which continues as children grow into teens and young adults. Though this boy may see himself as more grown-up than ever, he is still a youth - but has access to the world in new ways which gives him the capability to make decisions that can impact him for the rest of his life. If you’re a parent, help him with his critical thinking skills and continue to encourage his curiosity so he is able to make the safest decisions for himself.
Finally, if you know he is being exploited, or if an adult is asking him for images of himself, this is reportable. You can contact your local police as well as fill out a report through the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command’s Safety Centre in the UK or Cybertipline in the US.
Stop It Now!
Please share your feedback on this question
Last edited on: January 21st, 2021