Over the past decade, I’ve had more and more clients consult with me about something I never would have imagined 20 years ago: The online activity of their kids. It has come to the point where I definitely have some standard talking points when the parents hire me to talk with their tweens and teenagers.
Anything you put online can never be completely erased.
When if comes to posting, texting or “sexting” of naked photos, the odds run about 9 to 1 that young females will get in trouble with this, as opposed to young males. Boys don’t have to send anything… they’re spending all their time and energy trying to get girls to take off their clothes, take a pic and hit send.
The girls my clients have had me meet with and consult are typically teenagers, but they can be as young as 11 or 12 – not exactly an age when kids are known to have the best judgment.
Once a photo is circulated and posted online, it never dies. Unfortunately, “never” is a concept that many kids, conceptually, cannot grasp.
So many people (not necessarily just teenage girls) live by a misconception and falsely trust that whatever is online can be erased. The truth is that anything you put online can never be completely erased, no matter how many private investigators or companies your hire that to cleanse your profile.
When you’re 14 and have to testify against a 25 year-old pedophile, it tends to mess with your cheerleading practice schedule.
If young people run away, I can track them down and bring them back home. If they get into trouble with drugs, I can help get them into some excellent rehabilitation facilities that have high success rates. But in the past year, we have had dozens of frantic parents sitting in front of myself and staff asking us if we can erase some topless photos, or worse. These photos have been sent to a male schoolmate or (even worse) to some unknown person across the country. The scenario is exacerbated quickly when the photos are ricocheted around an entire school.
Once they hit the Internet they can be viewed 20,000 times overnight.
Sorry. Nothing I can do. This genie doesn’t go back in the bottle.
Consequences are hard for many kids to grasp. The nude shot they sent to some random guy on Kik for fun can easily become a key piece of evidence. When you’re 14 and have to testify against a 25 year-old pedophile, it tends to mess with your cheerleading practice schedule.
As far as the future, numerous universities and corporations hire us to do social media vetting when it comes to admissions and hiring. Shots with half-naked friends, drunk and doing body shots on spring break are not harmless. They might cost an admission to an Ivy League school, a trade school or a prestigious internship.
If these kids are coerced to meet in person, they can possibly be railroaded into the sex trade or physically harmed.
It used to be “girls will be girls” or “boys will be boys.” But with nothing left to the imagination in our modern age, repercussions are very real, immediate and disastrous.
Given the grave ramifications and overabundant cautionary tales out there, why do teenage girls continue to send and post risqué photos?
Journalist Nancy Jo Sales spent more than two years criss-crossing the country and interviewing more than 200 girls as research for her valuable new book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers. Lily, a 14-year-old from Garden City, N.Y. was interviewed by Sales. “I think it’s just to get attention,” she said. “It’s to get the likes. Everything’s about the likes.”
“Likes, hearts, swipes—validation is only a tap away,” Sales concluded. I heartily agree. Tween and teen girls naturally want to be accepted, cool, popular. They’re extremely vulnerable to peer pressure.
Just last week Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell warned parents about predators and pedophiles who troll the Net looking for compromising photos. He pointed out that when nude photos fall into the wrong hands, teens become vulnerable to blackmail and being forced to pay to keep the photos from going viral. Worse, if these kids are coerced to meet in person, they can possibly be railroaded into the sex trade or physically harmed. “Very scary,” the sheriff said. “Know what your kids are doing.”
Parents, please stay on top of your teen’s social media usage. If there was ever a case when an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, this is it.
This article was originally posted on March 23, 2016.