Many of us have a hard time imagining our children taking sexually suggestive pictures of themselves or their friends. We forget that our children belong in a new generation. It’s a generation where the digital life reflects what they do and how they grow up – also when it comes to body and sexuality.
Children and young people have many reasons for sharing sexually suggestive pictures. Sending the pictures can be a normal part of a relationship. Sometimes the pictures are a call for attention, and sometimes kids seek revenge by sending pictures that they’ve gotten from their ex girlfriend or boyfriend. Kids can even be manipulated or threatened to send naked pictures to someone who they have never met outside the internet.
There is no extensive Danish research on the area, but when American kids between 12 and 17 years old were asked, at least 1 in 25 had shared sexual pictures where they were “naked or almost naked”. I would be surprised if the Danish number wasn’t higher – in Denmark all the kids have mobile phones and the society is relatively open about body and sexuality.
Save the Children Denmark has a website called sikkerchat.dk where children can get advice about online media issues. During the past year we have experienced a significant rise in the number of contacts about naked pictures. Both girls and boys are asking for advice on how to handle concrete situations.
Rather than shaking your head thinking your child would never do this, you should be interested in the reasons behind the sharing of intimate pictures and talk to your kids about sex and limits on the internet. Many children don’t understand the total loss of control that can follow. Once a picture is shared, it might be impossible to take back. I would even say that the control is lost the moment the picture is taken. And the spreading of these pictures can be such a traumatic event that psychological help is needed.
As parents we have a responsibility to talk to our children about limits of self exposure. The dialogue works best if you take an open and curious attitude to your kids’ digital life – and respect the differences and suggest concrete actions.
There are also many places that offer help, both for kids and grown-ups. For example, the booklet So you got naked online… gives concrete tools and help to kids who find themselves in the middle of an unhappy situation. The Danish booklet Sårbar og søgende may also helps Danish parents to achieve a better dialog with kids about sex and limits online.