From Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Parents of Teens
Dear Dr. Wes and Julia,
My husband and I were horrified to learn that pictures of our daughter’s naked body were recently sent to half the kids in her school by a former boyfriend (or so we think). You can’t see her face, but let’s just say there aren’t any questions about who it is. When we confronted her, she was less embarrassed than we were, which was even more disturbing. She was more upset that we found out than the fact that it happened. She said she had trusted this guy and let him have the pictures she’d taken with her digital camera. Then they broke up and the rest is (bad) history. I’m not sure whether this is a question or a warning to other parents, but I wish you’d find time to respond to it.
Dr. Wes: Oh yes we will. This is going on a lot nowadays, so consider yourself unwitting pioneers into a whole new world. Vanessa Hudgins of High School Musical fame nearly lost her career for doing exactly the same thing as your daughter. The explosion of digital photography has yielded both good and bad. Your case illustrates the bad.
Young people find it interesting and rather daring to explore their bodies with digital photography. Yet, in doing so, they create images that can intentionally or accidentally get shared. Then, as your daughter learned, agreements to keep them private evaporate when relationships deteriorate. For teens, I strongly suggest learning to use the delete button after any such explorations; never, under any circumstances, let the microchip come out of hiding; do not send the photos to anyone; and never post them online, even if you have a “private” webpage.
Young people have also been recording their sexual exploits on video, with or without permission from their partners. I suggest that if anyone is so victimized, they take legal action. Unfortunately, embarrassment often gets in the way and offenders aren’t punished. And before participating willingly in such photo shoots, think very carefully about the long-term consequences. None of them are good.
Teens also chat away on text messaging and instant messenger, forgetting that every single word is archived on someone else’s computer, which can then be used maliciously if friendships turn sour and alliances shift. And finally, there’s good old MySpace and Facebook. There was an old show called “Kids Say the Darndest Things” that took advantage of preteens’ inability to censor themselves. I fear that during the TV writer’s strike someone will come up with a new show called “Teens Post the Darndest Things.” It won’t be pretty.
Thankfully, most of our own teen indiscretions are long forgotten. Today, they’re often preserved for everyone to see…forever.
Julia Davidson: Taking naked pictures seems to be the “it” thing now. Giving them to your partner symbolizes trust, intimacy and a very adult relationship…not. The only thing that a naked picture demonstrates is your comfort in front of a digital camera. For female participants, these pictures reinforce the idea that a woman’s body is an object to be ogled. I don’t mean to slam an intimate gift exchanged between partners, but there are so many better ways to show your love than with a risqué snapshot. To entrust a naked picture to anybody is to sign away your privacy and commonsense.
A naked photo may seem like the ultimate show of trust and adoration, but kids are not XXX porn stars, and they wouldn’t like to be labeled as such. Relationships between teenagers are so unpredictable. You don’t know how fast a picture of you can end up in someone else’s hands. Chances are, they will. Let’s imagine the person you give your photo to. Now imagine that person morphing into a middle-aged adult; your sibling; or worst of all, your parents or grandparents.
Parents have every right to be enraged or confused about the naked photo epidemic. Keep in mind, though, that the teen who takes a nude photo may not intend to be stupid, but only to signify a mature relationship. It’s alarming when it’s your daughter, but understand she’s just trying to act more mature than she is. No teenager wants their relationship to be denounced as “puppy love.” Hence, you get teenagers who seem like they’re growing up way too quickly and acting older than their age, rather than the innocent cherubs you once knew.
Yes, it is disturbing to find a topless shot of your child circulating the Internet, but it was probably intended as a misguided show of love. Any apathy you perceive from your daughter as a response is likely a cover up for the embarrassment of a sweet gesture gone horribly wrong.