I’ve written and read about teens, social media, apps, smart phones, and internet safety a lot in the past couple of years, because it’s a problem that’s not going away. In a world where parents give their kids the technology that has the power to destroy their lives as a birthday gift, Christmas gift, or rite of passage, the crisis that is sexting and self-created porn will only get bigger, the consequences worse: lives ruined or ended younger and younger. And so, I’m writing about it again, spurred on by an article in Canada’s National Post called “Boys Online” and the recent release of the book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers by Nancy Jo Sales. What teens reveal about sex on social media and their sex lives is shocking and frightening, and all parents need to know about it.
In the National Post’s Boys Online, we read quote after quote from boys about sex on social media who are not just asking for nude pictures from girls, but are engaging in extremely risky behavior themselves. This confession from an 18-year-old named Bobby is basically every parent’s worse nightmare: he’s sending “full nudes” to complete strangers…and even though he got burned doing it, HE’S STILL DOING IT. He says:
I was on Omegle, it’s a website that has “chat roulette,” you get paired with a stranger and it doesn’t show information or gender, so it’s easy to be tricked and I got set up with someone I thought was a 16-year-old girl. That’s what the person said and when I was chatting with her, after a couple of days, she said, “I’ll send some nude photos if you send some.”
That’s an awesome deal, I thought. So I sent mine … she said her camera wasn’t working. A couple of pictures in, I realized she could be a 40-year-old man for all I know. There could be naked pictures of me around the deep web.
I’ve sent nudes of myself since, and it’s a little embarrassing knowing that’s it out there, but at least from that point on, all nudes that I’ve sent are with people I know.
When explaining his thoughts about sex on social media and why he still continues to engage in this behavior even though he doesn’t REALLY know who’s actually receiving the photos, he says, “It’s like anything — you can walk to the gas station and run the risk of being kidnapped, but that’s not a reason not to go on.”
WHAT?? Bobby, YES IT IS! IT IS A REASON TO STOP THIS BEHAVIOR! Sending nude selfies is NOT like risking getting kidnapped every time you get gas. Moms and dads, this guy is EIGHTEEN, not thirteen, and he STILL doesn’t get it. So do you really think your tween is going to get the importance of sex on social media?
But I digress. Let’s talk about why girls say they take and send provocative photos to their peers of the opposite sex.
In Nancy Jo Sales’ book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, some of the over 200 girls she interviewed explain the age-old impetus for their risky use of social media: popularity.
“We’ve transferred high school popularity into social media measurements,” says Zoe, a 16-year-old from Los Angeles. “The popularity contest — it’s never been a good thing — and now we have the actual numbers, we’ve become greedy. We want more attention.”
And how do they get it? Well, since they have eyes and ears and live in America, they know that sex sells and so the sex on social media. So they use it to buy popularity.
“More provocative equals more likes,” says 16-year-old Greta. And 13-year-old Sophia says posting provocative selfies with a “come-hither” look is “her brand.”
You read that right, a 13-year-old thinks she needs “a brand” to be liked. And that that brand needs to be SEXY.
To get just the right look, the teens in Sales’ book describe taking dozens of photos to get just the right one, then using filters, editing apps, and even Photoshop to make it look just right—and nothing like what’s REAL.
“What was striking in hearing them talk about this was how conscious they were of what they were doing, their awareness of the inauthenticity of the self they presented on social media,” Sales writes.
That last line gave me chills, parents! They’re aware that they’re selling something that is not at all what they truly are. And they’re banking on the amount of “likes” these images get to determine their self-worth.
And where these underage girls’ sexy pictures end up is scary, too. According to some of the teens interviewed for Boys Online, there are PLENTY of underage girls on Tinder. One 18-year-old explains how FAST social media has changed teen dating, saying, “If you think back to being 14 or something, you might ask a girl to the dance or get your first kiss. Now, you get that app and you can go as far as you want.” Another describes a near-miss with an underage girl he thought was older: “One of my friends matched up with a girl on Tinder and he was going to go to her house when he told my other friend, and he’s like, ‘That’s my sister and she’s only 14 years old.’ She was on Tinder telling people she was 18.”
Another boy, Kam, says Tinder is definitely the place to go for a hook-up, not a relationship, and that it’s also a great segue to getting girls to send him nude photos. He describes his strategy rather frankly:
I have a line that I say to every single girl: “What’s up cutie?” You give them that little hint, like you like her, you don’t want to be her friend or anything. “Do you have Snapchat?” That’s my second or third line. Snapchat is for nudes. I’ve seen 100 of them. When girls send guys nudes, guys show their friends.
So to recap, moms and dads: our teens are using smartphones and social media to pursue popularity and sex as primary goals: the first is fleeting and the second should be enjoyed only by two consenting adults (in my opinion within a marriage). Girls are taking sexy photos of themselves to gain popularity and both genders are sending nude photos of themselves which can then be used and circulated by virtually anyone for virtually any purpose.
Both genders are using dating apps to send nude photos to and THEN MEET UP WITH complete strangers.
Parents, once again I am begging you, BEGGING you to monitor your child’s social media and smartphone use VERY closely. Establish rules and go through your child’s phone on a regular basis. Check for apps that hide apps, and talk to their friends’ parents about how internet and social media is used in THEIR homes. Talk to them about how sex on social media is being used.
And for goodness’ sake, don’t be afraid to be the parent that buys them a disposable flip phone with NO camera. Being THAT parent might just save your child from a WORLD of hurt, at least until they’re 18. But before that, read articles like this with them and instill in them a real knowledge that what happens on the internet…STAYS ON THE INTERNET FOREVER, and has the potential to ruin their young lives.