A young woman on her phone


Are All Tweens and Teens Sexting? It’s a Question That Keeps Me Up at Night

Oct 3, 2019

Somebody in my household has posted a picture of their bare butt to the internet.

It wasn’t me, but I do kind of understand the impulse. 

There was a photocopy machine in the drugstore just down the street from where I grew up. Around a certain age, my friends and I tried to photocopy just about every body part we could discreetly manage, left the copy in the tray and considered this a quarter fabulously well spent.

My greatest fear, as a parent, is that my kids will someday share nude photos....

It was an era which valued subtlety.

But everything is more complicated now. I blame the internet and the kids these days.

To be clear, our mooning incident was more of a “what do you mean it uploaded to the cloud?” type fail, but my heart still skipped a beat. 

My greatest fear, as a parent, is that my kids will someday share nude photos, of themselves or a partner, and face some unimaginable, life-altering consequences.

And the fact that I could not tell you exactly what this monster will look like — or how or when or if it will happen — makes it all the more terrifying.  

Now, I have done my homework on this particular nightmare and I realize that I may have slightly less to fear here in Canada.

I am aware, for example, that the Supreme Court has ruled that young people have a right to express sexuality through images, so long as those images remain private, are consensual and otherwise lawful.

Read "The Legacy of Rehtaeh Parsons" by CBC Interactives 

In other words, a suggestive selfie shared with a partner won’t necessarily send them to jail for child porn possession, as has happened in some places. Whew.

And truth be told, the police's ability to investigate online crimes was bolstered in the wake of the Rehtaeh Parsons case.

But I am still pretty scared, because some experts say it's a real problem for Canadians. So I'm a dad in a cycle of reliving horrors that may or may not have happened yet.

Because nude pictures of young people, shared digitally, can just go south in so many different ways. Nude pictures of anyone can go south in so many different ways. 

The sticking point for me is privacy. I just do not believe that an image can become digital and remain private any longer. 

And — while I can understand the puerile joy of photocopying some part of your body so that it looks like your butt (or something worse) — the impulse to snap a sexual selfie makes no sense to me at all. That’s not tantalizing (trust me), that’s terrifying. Trust my teenage self with a picture like that? Why not juggle dynamite sticks instead.

But what do I know? With politicians and business moguls all leaping on the bandwagon, it feels kind of inevitable. A former Guelph high school teacher is going to jail for 90 days for sending sexually explicit images and video to one of his students over Snapchat. 

Look at my friends and me back in the day. Did we ever successfully photocopy our butts? Nope. But you can bet we would have, if the conditions were right and the quarters were plentiful. Heck, my kids are all 10 years old and under and one of them has already posted a picture of their butt to the internet, and they weren’t even trying. 

From The Teens Themselves: Talking About the Pressure to Send Nude Selfies

How to Deal 

Which brings me to the dark layers of this nightmare: I have this fear, it is a big fear, severe consequences are always possible (even if unlikely) and telling my kids not to share images at all is not realistic.

You can go with basic digital literacy. You can tell them that the web is interconnected and that they shouldn’t trust the people or things they interact with there, because kids do so well with abstract ideas like that (this is sarcasm).

You can tell them that the digital media deals in copies, stored in multiple locations and that the digital images they create may never be erased, because kids handle permanence and long-term consequence so well (more sarcasm). 

And you can backstop it with some basic sex ed — this is a sex act, this is privacy and consent and you need to tell someone if you have any concerns — to which they will probably listen with interest.

And then, because it is an imperfect plan and every kid is so truly different, you will no doubt have to go through variations of these plans over and over again as they grow, in a kind of rolling conversation.

Needless to say, I lie awake at night.

Article Author Rob Thomas
Rob Thomas

Read more from Rob here.

Rob Thomas is a writer, editor and a work-at-home dad. Brood, a book of poems inspired by his experiences of fatherhood, was launched at the Ottawa International Writers Festival in 2014. His journalism has appeared in places such as Ottawa Magazine, the United Church Observer, Canadian Running and on CBC radio and television. He is also a founding member of an Ottawa social club for dads called The Ugly Mothers.

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