“My kid is sending nudes!!!”
I hear this often, and my heart breaks every time. My first response is, “Default to love. Just love your child unconditionally.”
We’ve all been blindsided with raising kids in a digital world. Once I explain this to parents and assure them that even good kids make mistakes online, I calmly ask, “Have you ever discussed nude photos with your children?”
Almost always, the response is: “I didn’t know I had to.”
Kids are Growing Up in a World Where Sending Nudes is the Norm
It seems like common sense to us, as parents: don’t take, send or ask for a picture without clothes on. Do we really need to say it? The fact that we don’t have this conversation with our kids tells me we don’t understand their culture.
They are growing up in a different world. Everything is snapped, posted and shared. Kids are now walking into bathrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms–every “safe” space–with a camera in their back pocket.
Photos can be taken in locker rooms and posted to social media where there could accidentally be another undressed student in the background. During a sleepover, a girl can be caught in a bedroom mirror as she’s changing, but no one notices until it’s been Snapchatted and screenshot.
Girls walk around with the fear of being upskirted. Years ago, it was boys looking up skirts with a mirror, but today the phone is angled just right to capture videos that can be uploaded and shared with the world.
At the same time kids cannot escape cameras being everywhere, they are also growing up in a porn-saturated world. What once was a covert operation to sneak a magazine is now a swipe of a screen where highly-sexualized videos are available. If you have a middle school child and have a healthy dialogue, you know their friends are often telling them what type of porn to Google. All of this working together desensitizes our kids and normalizes nudes.
What You Need to Know About Kids Sending Nudes
The mainstream media often refers to this trend as sexting—a combination of the words sex and text. I think that term is outdated. It’s also misleading for parents because kids don’t really sext anymore. They know you’re monitoring their texts so they typically share nudes within apps because it’s easier to hide and more difficult to track. They can direct message (“DM”) the nudes, and because of privacy regulations, many app-monitoring services can’t track the direct messages.
According to one survey, “[Sixty-six percent] of teens and young adults … have received a sexually explicit image and 41% have sent one.” I think it’s higher from what I’m seeing on the frontlines. That’s from a research study in 2016, and we know that technology always moves faster than research.
We tend to think that girls are the only ones who are sending nudes. But that isn’t the case. Boys also send nudes called dick pics. (Don’t cringe. You need to know this.) Often, boys will send dick pics first to entice the girls to send them. How gentlemanly of them to put themselves out there first. Sigh.
In some geographical locations, sending nudes is referred to as trading cards. You know, like how we used to trade baseball cards.
People have shared stories with me about eighth-grade girls saying,
“If you haven’t been asked for a nude by now, you’re kinda lame.”
Did you catch that?
Our world is telling our baby girls that they should want to be asked for a nude because it validates their beauty, popularity, and desirability. Kids crave validation and being asked for a nude tells a girl she’s good enough.
When our kids get manipulated into actually swapping nudes, I also want you to think about this. When we were growing up, pornography was a pin-up supermodel you’d never meet. Now, it’s the kid sitting next to you in math class. Can you imagine what that is doing to our kids’ brains?
How to Talk With Kids About Sending Nudes
When we begin to understand their culture, we can see how kids could get caught up in this new fad of sending nudes.
So, what do we do?
Many parents will say, “Just don’t give your child a phone.”
I did that, at first, but my daughter was exposed to pornography at the fourth-grade lunch table. She was nine.
Your kids don’t need a phone to be exposed to online dangers.
My daughter is now seventeen, and it’s been eight years of parenting through digital issues. I’ve learned a lot.
You can delay the phone, but you cannot delay the conversations.
The solution and first line of defense is: open communication. It’s about having healthy, on-the-go conversations about everyday questions our kids struggle with. Real issues in real time.
There are also great tools to supplement the conversations. Yes, subscribe to those monitoring services. Set restrictions and parental controls. Do random phone checks. Implement a phone contract with clear guidelines and consequences. Be in your kids’ online world and follow them on social media.
All of these things are good, but they have loopholes. And honestly, if your child wants to deliberately hide something from you, they’ll use a friend’s phone. I always caution parents: please don’t download an app, pay $9.99 a month and take your hands off the wheel. Restrictions are important, but it’s more about the relationship.
This requires us to intentionally build a culture of conversation in our homes.
When filters and restrictions failed, open communication has kept my kids safe. I’ve witnessed this firsthand. App-monitoring devices aren’t catching the conversations at lunch or on the bus, but my kids are telling me all about them.
So, how do I talk with my kids about nudes and when do I start? It’s younger than you might think.
3 Age- Appropriate Ways to Start the Conversation About Sending Nudes
1. Use Teachable Moments to Plant Seeds
Think about your toddler barging into the bathroom with a diaper on, sippy cup in one hand and your phone (or a tablet) in the other. He comes in shouting, “Mommy! Mommy!” because you get no privacy ever with a toddler, right? And the drool. It’s everywhere! I can’t.
As parents, we often miss this teachable moment with our young children. But now that we know sending nudes is an issue by middle school, we can use moments like these to plant seeds.
So instead of overreacting to the bathroom incident or ignoring it altogether, you can use it as a teachable moment and calmly say to your child, “Did you know that phone takes pictures? Oh no! What if you accidentally took a picture of mommy without clothes on? That would be awful! We never take pictures of people without clothes on. So from now on, we’re not bringing screens into the bathroom.”
You just planted a seed with your toddler for future conversations about nudes without exposing him to anything inappropriate for his age. You’re being proactive, not reactive. You’re not only planting seeds, you’re having preventive conversations and laying the groundwork for more detailed discussions as your child gets older.
Did you know that Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr. teaches kids to never share pictures of their private parts with others? See the 5 Rules on page 31!
2. Create Family Screen Guidelines
Along with planting seeds, create clear guidelines about screens for your kids. This seems so simple, but we didn’t grow up with anyone teaching us how to use phones so we often miss this important step. It is standard operating procedure in our home that no phones can be taken in the bathroom or behind closed doors like a bedroom.
This helps create a “safe” space for your kids where no cameras are present and makes them think about the fact that we don’t need phones everywhere.
As you create these new guidelines, you’ll also have to practice what you preach. For example, one time my son was taking a bubble bath, and he looked so adorable covered in bubbles that I snapped a photo of him. I was going to text it to my husband, but then my son reminded me of our no-screens bathroom rule.
“You’re absolutely right, I said. I broke the rule, and that was a big mistake on my part. I’m sorry!”
Be consistent in your guidelines, and be a good model.
Grab your FREE Guide!
Learn how to create your Family Media Values in 4 easy steps!
Your FREE Guide Is On The Way!
3. Teach Your Kids to Protect Their Hearts and Minds
We aren’t with our children 24/7, so we need to teach them the importance of not allowing harmful thoughts and images into their hearts and minds. They have to self-manage what they allow in.
Ever since our daughter’s exposure to porn in the fourth grade, my husband and I have been teaching our kids to guard their hearts and minds. They know they’re responsible for what they look at, listen to, think about, download, search for, comment on, and participate in.
If another kid tells my son about the hot women he saw on “Ph” (Pornhub) the night before or asks him if he wants a classmate’s nude Airdropped to him, I don’t want my child to think, “My parents will kill me if I look at that.” Instead, I hope he’ll think, “Is this good for my heart and mind?”
When my son was in elementary school, some kids at the lunch table started talking about oral sex while another child was eating a Popsicle. They didn’t use the words oral sex, but they were describing it in detail. Yes, I’m serious!
When I picked my son up from school, he told me about it before we were even out of the school parking lot. Then he said, “I need to know what they were talking about. What is this?”
We had previously set the foundation for a conversation about this topic by talking about how babies are made, so I was ready to explain it. But as I started to answer his question, he raised his hand, put it in front of my face, and said, “STOP! I want to protect my heart and mind.”
Y’all, my heart melted! My son had learned to advocate for himself and not allow pictures or details to enter his mind that he wasn’t ready for yet. I was so proud of him.
Teach your kids to protect their own hearts and minds as they prepare for life in this porn and nude-saturated world.
Building healthy relationships is the key
I know that, especially for moms of young kids, this can all be overwhelming. We want our kids to have a simpler childhood. I hear you. When I found myself wishing to move to a deserted island, I had to decide to face what was happening and actively find a solution to help my kids, instead of staying stuck in my frustration and anger.
My journey led me to the hope found in open communication. Now, I don’t go to bed at night worrying about what my kids have been exposed to. I go to sleep knowing that no matter what my kids see online or hear from friends, they will come home and ask me. That has been so freeing and empowering!
Technology is exposing our kids to new dangers. Instead of being overwhelmed, spend that time pouring in and building a healthy relationship with your child. Have courage and talk with your kids in age-appropriate ways. Plant seeds early, set guidelines and teach them how to protect their hearts and minds. I hope you’ll be empowered, as I’ve been, when you see open communication really does keep our kids safe!
Some of the above has been taken from Mandy Majors’ new book, Keeping Kids Safe in a Digital World: A Solution That Works.
 Josh McDowell Ministry and Barna Group, The Porn Phenomenon: The Explosive Growth of Pornography and How It’s Impacting Your Church, Life, and Ministry (Plano, TX: Josh McDowell Ministry, 2016), cited in Chrissy Gordon, “Key Findings in Landmark Pornography Study Released,” Josh McDowell Ministry, January 19, 2016, www.josh.org/key-findings-in-landmark-pornography-study-released/. Used by permission in Keeping Kids Safe in a Digital World.