I Just Learned A New Way My Teens Get Nudes They Never Asked For
By Paula Schuck
PHOTO © esspeshal/Twenty20
Jan 7, 2021
Has your child ever received a "dick pic"? Have you ever asked?
A friend whose daughter is 13 recently asked if anyone knew anything about kids receiving random unwanted AirDropped penis pictures. Airdropping works via a Wifi or Bluetooth connection and is basically a means of transferring files between iOS devices as long as the people are in close proximity.
I’d heard of unsolicited pictures of genitals being sent on Snapchat and Instagram, but, until recently, knew nothing about AirDropped nude photos, or cyber-flashing.
Was this something new? Are people AirDropping penis photos at random anywhere? How is that a thing?
"Why do people think it’s OK to take photos of their genitals, and furthermore, why do they think it's OK to AirDrop or send them via social media messages ...?"
For a hot second, I was shocked. But then I remembered my youngest daughter once comically AirDropping Peppa Pig to someone when we were in a museum in upstate New York. That day we laughed until our sides hurt at the idea of some random person suddenly just getting a Peppa Pig photo on their phone. It was ridiculously easy to see who had settings wide open and was using an iPhone.
While my friend was horrified that a 13-year-old had received an unsolicited penis photo at school, I wondered when that behaviour became a trend. Why do people think it’s OK to take photos of their genitals, and furthermore, why do they think it's OK to AirDrop or send them via social media messages at any time and to anyone regardless of age, gender, sex or consideration of basic social rules?
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So, I did what I always do when I am shocked and surprised and curious about something happening on tech or social media that I am unaware of — I checked in with my teenage daughters, and then I asked an online safety expert. Both confirmed that this behaviour, cyber-flashing, is a trend, but it's not new.
My kids have both grown up with digital media as a constant in their lives. I asked if they knew anything about AirDropping penis photos one day when we were eating lunch together. Both immediately chimed in: “YES, MOM.” It was in that tone, you know the one, that says: OMG, how are you so naïve?
“Mom, you have no idea,” they said. “Most teenage girls have received penis photos at some point during high school. It is a daily occurrence.”
"Both immediately chimed in: 'YES, MOM.' It was in that tone, you know the one, that says: OMG, how are you so naïve?"
Sometimes, it’s AirDropped penis photos. Often, it’s Snapchat that is the vehicle for unwanted nudes. But it doesn’t even matter what the channel or app is, said my oldest daughter, who is 19. She says it's a constant factor and a reality of being online.
“Since we have been home during the pandemic and on devices more, it happens more often than it did before, especially on Snapchat,” she told me. “But at school, and in public, yes AirDropped penis photos are a thing.”
I asked her if that means some random stranger within AirDropping range, or connected on Snapchat, has sent her a photo of a penis? “As recently as last week,” she said, adding that she blocks those people. Occasionally, she claps back.
It is entirely unreasonable to expect kids to step away from social media — whether on an Android or iPhone — so that they never receive unwanted pictures. Smartphones are a huge part of their daily existence. Right now, it’s often the only way they can connect with friends.
But I wanted to know how to have these conversations and what to do if my kid receives one of these inappropriate pics. Is there a way to block people from AirDropping photos, or should I simply tell them to never accept any AirDropped content if they don’t know who is sending it and they aren’t expecting any?
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So, I talked to Paul Davis, a social media and online safety educator who lectures in schools about online safety often. He told me there’s no way to eliminate getting an unwanted photo at some point, but there are ways to manage that risk as a parent. He also said this kind of behaviour has been going on for years.
“You can’t unsee what’s already been seen,” he told me, “don’t put too much tech into their hands too soon. There’s no reason a kid in Grade 4 or 5 should have an iPhone.”
I agree with that now as a parent. I gave my one daughter my old iPhone 4 (remember those?) when she was 13 and my younger daughter was a similar age when I got her an iPhone because she was playing competitive basketball with her school and I was driving all over town trying to find her afterwards. In retrospect, I kind of wish I had waited until both were in high school, because they often spend too much time on their phones.
"... while I can’t always anticipate the threats or insults, good communication plus restricting some settings is a start."
Davis also advised getting an Android instead of an iPhone to eliminate the unwanted AirDropped photos. And he recommends that kids don’t use social media until they are 13 or older.
But if — or when — your child gets their first iPhone, it’s actually simple to turn AirDrop off in settings under the General heading. Later on, they might change the settings to accept files from known contacts only. Changing your settings to "contacts only" won’t completely eliminate the issue if, at school, a friend/contact suddenly decides to send one, but it will eliminate some of that.
Some things that I've done include asking them if they’ve seen any questionable content and then discussing how they’ve dealt with it. We talk about blocking and reporting people on social media, and when that’s appropriate. And I talk to my kids about not sending anything they don’t want to see widely distributed. My oldest daughter, now 19, advises not accepting any requests to add people you don’t know.
Social media is always evolving and so is technology, and while I can’t always anticipate the threats or insults, good communication plus restricting some settings is a start.
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