Dear Dr. Wes and Julia: My husband and I were horrified to learn that pictures of our daughter's naked body were circulated around her school. When we confronted her, she was less embarrassed than we were, which was even more disturbing. I'm not sure if this is a question or a warning to other parents, but I wish you could respond.
- Digital Age Mom
Wes: There's some early research suggesting that teens today have a completely different view of privacy and modesty than ever before. They just don't think of it as we do. So consider yourself unwitting pioneers into a whole new world. You may also know that this is going on a lot nowadays. I hear one story a week locally. Vanessa Hudgens of "High School Musical" fame nearly ruined her career for doing exactly the same thing. The explosion of digital photography has yielded both good and bad. Your case illustrates the bad.
Young people find it interesting and rather daring to explore their bodies with digital photography. Yet in doing so they create images that can intentionally or accidentally get shared. Then, as your daughter learned, any agreements to keep them private can evaporate. For teens, I strongly suggest learning to use the delete button after any explorations; NEVER under any circumstances let the microchip come out of hiding; do NOT send the photos to anyone; and never EVER post them online even if you have a closed Web page.
Young people have also been recording their sexual exploits - with or without permission from their partners. I suggest that if anyone is so victimized, they take legal action. Unfortunately, embarrassment often gets in the way, and offenders aren't punished. Before participating willingly in such photo shoots, I suggest you think very carefully about the long-term consequences. None of them are good.
Teens also chat away on text messaging and AIM, forgetting that every single word is archived on someone's computer, which can then be used maliciously if friendships turn sour and alliances shift. And finally, there's good old MySpace and Facebook. There was an old show called "Kids say the Darndest Things" that took advantage of preteens' inability to censor themselves. I fear that during the writer's strike someone will come up with a show called "Teens Post the Darndest Things." It would not be pretty.
A previous teen Double Take author offered this good advice: Never commit anything to the Internet or text messaging that you wouldn't want published on the front page of the New York Times. It's normal for kids to act before thinking. Most our own teen indiscretions are long forgotten - thankfully. Today they are often preserved for everyone to see : FOREVER.
Julia: Taking naked pictures seems to be the "it" thing to do nowadays. For the female participants, these pictures reinforce the idea that a woman's body is an object to be ogled and nothing more. To entrust a naked picture to anybody is to sign away your privacy and common sense.
To teens out there, sharing a nude photo may seem like the ultimate show of trust and adoration, but remember this - you are teenagers. You are not porn stars, and you wouldn't like to be labeled as such. Relationships between teenagers are so unpredictable. You don't know how fast a picture of you can end up in someone else's hands. Chances are, they will.
To parents deeply enraged or just confused about the naked photo epidemic, you have every right to be. Keep in mind though, that the kind of person who shares a nude photo is not trying to be stupid - they're usually trying to signify a mature relationship. Hence, you get teenagers who seem like they are growing up way too quickly and acting older than their age, rather than the innocent cherub you once knew.
Next week: We respond to a grandmothers' concerns about teen sexuality.
Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Julia Davidson is a Bishop Seabury Academy junior. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence is strictly confidential.