Inappropriate Content

What do I do if I find nudes on my teenager’s phone?

Finding inappropriate content on your child’s device will understandably lead to all kinds of emotions for you as a parent’s. How we respond to those emotions  is critical.

What do I do if I find nudes on my teenager’s phone?

There are many ways parents try to help protect and filter out what we’d rather our children not see—but what about when the ones creating and sharing inappropriate content are the kids themselves?

Sexting Among Teens is More Common than Most Parents Know

According to some teenagers, your relationship isn’t official until you’ve sent each other nudes.

U.S. surveys compiled by GuardChild in 2020 found 20% of teens had sent a sexually explicit image of themselves on their phone. Girls were more likely to send photos of themselves than boys, and half the girls who sexted were under 16-years-old. 71% of those teens sent the pictures to their boyfriend or girlfriend. And one in five teens has sent, received, or forwarded a sext message.

This happens even though the girls think it's inappropriate. Plan International Australia and Our Watch found that 81% of girls believe it’s unacceptable for boyfriends to ask for explicit content, although they believe pressure to do so is now commonplace.

The Risks of Sexting and Nudes

Sextortion and Sharing Nude Photos Without Consent

It is an unfortunate reality that even if a teen thinks they’re sending nudes to somebody they trust, it is extremely common for people to share those images with others. An especially serious form of this violation of consent occurs when nude or degrading pictures are sent in mass emails or text messages—or are posted on photo sharing sites for anyone on the internet to view and download. Once that happens, there is little way to control it. Purposely and publicly posting an image to shame someone online is sometimes used as a form of revenge after a romantic relationship breaks up, and it can have devastating effects on a person to have their privacy violated in this way. Sometimes predatory individuals even use these kinds of images for “sextortation,” using nudes as blackmail or to extort the person in the picture for sexual favors.

Teens (and adults, for that matter) need to be educated about this risk and should be aware that even on platforms like Snapchat with disappearing messages, people can and do take screenshots.

Potential Legal Consequences of Sending Nude Photos as a Minor

It’s important to point out that any type of nude picture, taken or shared with sexual intent, of a child under the age of 18 is illegal and considered child pornography. And any sharing of that picture may be considered trafficked or distributed child pornography. So even if your teen sent a picture of themself to someone else, that could be considered distributing child pornography and could be grounds for legal action in many states.

If the pictures on your child’s phone are of another tween or teen, that can also be considered being in possession of child pornography. In some cases, that could lead to being tried as an adult, prison time, and being put on the sex-offender registry. Many teens simply don’t understand the ramifications that sharing explicit pictures—even of their own bodies—can have. 

 If you’re concerned about legal implications of content found on your children’s devices, consider consulting with an attorney.

What do I do if I catch my teen sexting?

Discovering any kind of inappropriate content on your child’s device will lead to all kinds of emotions for you as a parent. And having those emotions is normal and natural. It’s how we act after experiencing those emotions that is critical. Remember, choose to take time and space to think things through. Process the experience with your partner or another adult, and then choose to respond deliberately rather than react impulsively. 

     1. Be prepared for all kinds of responses.

You know your child best. Some kids might try to lie, get defensive, or shut down with intense shame. While recognizing your own feelings might include disapproval or disappointment, also remember that having a conversation about nude photos with their parent is likely a pretty upsetting, challenging experience for your child. So give them some comfort and compassion and ask yourself what you would want if you were in their shoes.

     2. Ask questions and listen carefully to their side of things.

You might approach your teen by saying something like “This conversation may be a bit uncomfortable, but it’s important to talk. I want you to know right up front that I love you. Look, I’m disappointed by what I saw. Can you tell me what led to this? What were you hoping to get from this? I really do want to understand.” 

When you come to a better understanding of the entire situation, use the opportunity to both show compassion and teach, not shame. Questions like, “What led you to send that picture?” or “What kind of pressure were you getting?” As you listen, you’ll better understand that your child will likely feel humiliated and ashamed. And they don’t need you to add to it.

     3. Show compassion, empathy and understanding.

The ultimate goal of asking questions is compassion and understanding. Remembering that ALL of us do things for reasons that make sense to us in the moment (even adolescents doing really dumb things). Teenagers desire autonomy and to be respected like adults, but at the same time, they haven’t finished developing an adult brain.

Give them a chance to share their side, without interrupting, voice-raising, accusing, or judging. Just listen. Chances are, they did it to meet one of their most basic needs related to connection. People will do almost anything to feel loved and accepted.

     4. Practice patience and a calm tone.

This is all MUCH easier said than done. We get it.  Especially if there could be serious, even legal consequences. But positive parenting is rarely easy.  Despite what emotions you feel in the heat of the moment, be careful not to shame your child. They’ll likely shut down and may not want to talk about this again depending on how you react. This is key. Instead of making accusations, ask questions and seek to genuinely understand their perspective.

     5. Delete the photos.

If your child receives a nude photo, have them delete it right away. If your child has nude photos of themselves, have them delete those too. It’s child pornography and it’s illegal. Just delete it.

     6. Correspond with other parents if necessary.

If other teens are involved, you may want to  find ways to gather with other parents to handle the situation. Keep your child informed throughout this process. They’re going to be worried, so you can balance the seriousness of it with reassuring them as much as it takes that you love and care for them. Unconditionally. Full stop.  

However, avoid the urge to send photos of teens to the sender’s parents with a message like, “Look what your child just sent my child!” Don’t do it. It could be counted as distributing child pornography. 

     7. Consider carefully who else needs to be informed.

If pictures were taken or distributed while on school property or during school hours, then the school might wish to get involved. But notifying the school may come with some challenges as well. For example, they may be required to report it to law enforcement, and things could turn into a more complicated situation. Of course, some situations warrant the complexity, but carefully consider whether your child’s situation requires intervention.

If you’re not sure, consult with an attorney.

Prevention Is the Best Cure

If you haven’t had to face this before, the best way to avoid having this conversation is to have frequent, open conversations with your child.

It is critically important that parents talk to their children about what healthy, consensual sexuality is and what it isn’t. Don’t just have one “big talk.” Have many “little talks” about healthy sexuality, how the concept of consent extends to pictures of themselves and others, and the potential risks and legal implications of sending or requesting inappropriate messages.

Learn more about how to communicate with your kids about these important issues in the Raise app.

Photo by Gilles Lambert on Unsplash

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