Teaching kids about revenge porn, hacked photos & other non-consensual sharing

One of the things we have to contend with as parents, that our own parents likely never dreamed of dealing with, are nude images that were taken consensually but then shared without consent.

While in our heads we might hear a whisper of ‘WHY did you take that photo in the first place?’, we need to banish judgement of this consensual act and stay focused on the crime that has been committed. We need to help our kids understand the values that are at stake and assess the risks rather than judge the appeal of the act.

We live in a selfie-driven and (hyper)sexualized culture. Young people get messages all the time that sharing sexy photos is something to do. There are all sorts of conversations we can have with our kids to challenge this practice.  We can discuss, among other things, body image, what constitutes sexiness, and sexual objectification.  We can talk about peer pressure and the value of an action of this nature.

And of course, we can talk about consent. From a place of self-love and respect of self and others, I have no problem with people sharing nude photos.  It’s an activity that mature people can and will engage in.  The problem, of course, comes from uninformed and perhaps naive notions of trust and privacy.

Stealing as a sex crime

Jennifer Lawrence knows all about it. Many have condemned her but she’s done nothing wrong. Something was stolen from her.  How we respond, whether we view what was stolen – these are things we have control over.

Unapproved sharing as a sex crime

Revenge porn is perhaps the ugliest side of initially consensual sharing. Taking a screenshot and distributing a Snapchat selfie to all your friends is another henious act of sharing that surpasses its intended viewing.  While one might seem more benign than the other, they both disregard the will and interests of the person in the photo. We have control over what we do with images that were gifted to us.

What can we do?
Fundamentally, this is about teaching a kid what it is to be a mensch.  The early lessons don’t need to be about sexting at all but about self respect and respect for others.  It’s also about teaching young people that not everyone in the world is a mensch.  Some people appear to be a mensch and then act in ways that are entirely un-mensch-like.

  • Explain the implications: Help your children understand the public nature of the sharing on the internet or by text and its risks as well as benefits. Be sure they know that any digital info they share, such as emails, photos, or videos, can easily be copied and pasted elsewhere, and is almost impossible to take back. Offer a strong caution that things that could damage their reputation, friendships, or future prospects should not be shared electronically.
  • Help them be good digital citizens: Remind your children to be good  ‘digital citizen’ by respecting personal information of friends and family and not sharing anything about others that is potentially embarrassing or hurtful.  Reinforce exercising control over how kids engage with material they have access to or are in possession of.  Even if others have hurt them.
  • Encourage and support their good choices on and off line: We can try to forbid access forever but that doesn’t work.  We need to set and hold high standards (and limits) of use, monitor the use, and keep talking.  We can then expand access as maturity and sound decision-making develops.  We can trust them and encourage them to come to us with concerns or challenges.
  • Don’t shame the person in the image. Hold non-consensual sharers accountable.  While we might not condone the gifting of a photo, it’s the receiver, in sharing beyond what was intended, that is entirely in the wrong. Place blame responsibly. Nothing more to say here.

Common Sense Media offers great tools for getting young kids ready for their digital lives.   If your kid knows what a selfie is, it’s time to tell them how to use a selfie like a mensch.

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Check out what Emma Holton, a young Danish woman experienced after an ex-boyfriend posted nude photos. I admire her thoughtful response.

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