How do I stop my teenage son from pressuring girls into sending nudes?

January 26 2018 | bijouxandbits
Offbeat Home & Life runs these advice questions as an opportunity for our readers to share personal experiences and anecdotes. Readers are responsible for doing their own research before following any advice given here... or anywhere else on the web, for that matter.
What do I do to stop my teenage son from pressuring girls into sending nudes?
By: Esther VargasCC by 2.0
"I have a 13-year-old son who I've recently found out has been pressuring a female friend into sending nude photos to him. I'm SO disappointed as I thought I was doing a good job teaching him about enthusiastic consent, legal issues with minors, and framing media news in a teachable way. But I'm going wrong somewhere.

Do any of you have any advice or resources for dealing with this?" – D

As with most situations like this, the onus usually gets put on the victim to stop doing something: succumbing to pressure, acting a certain way, complying to demands — but there's been a shift in thinking, especially after a bright light has been placed on men in positions of power in the media. I'm glad to hear that you're using it for teachable moments and worrying about how to affect your son's behavior as opposed to wondering how to stop the girl on the other end of the phone. While she also needs to learn how to react when pressured to send illicit photos, the onus far often needs to be on the boys' side to stop the behavior.

Even in my own research for this post, I noticed the immediate switch to educating the girl in the situation.

Even in my own research for this post, I noticed the immediate switch to educating the girl in the situation. Try Googling "how to stop teen boys from asking for nudes" and see how almost all of the results are something to the effect of "15 responses to use when someone asks you to send nude," "Dear Teen Girl, Please Read My Story Before You Send Those Nudes," and "How can I get a guy to stop asking for nudes?"

A recent New York Times article cited research that showed boys are four more times likely to pressure girls into sending nude photos than girls are to pressure them. In articulating why not to send those nudes, we need to be appending that nudes should also not be requested as well. As the NYT article posits, this won't change things overnight, but it will start to change the norms of behavior and start to restructure the rules of what is and isn't acceptable or crossing a line.

Boys are four more times likely to pressure girls into sending nude photos than girls are to pressure them.

It truly does sound like you've been doing all the right things to teach your son about consent and boundaries, but teens often need even more reinforcement through personal experiences or thoughtful conversations. It's easy to tell you to take away his phone or punish him (and we did hear that as recommendations from our kick-ass readers on Facebook), but I think teaching him about the ramifications of the actions, whether they're caught and punished or not, is key. Finding personal stories of the legal and emotional consequences can be helpful to share. Explaining that pressuring for nudes is a form of bullying may also be helpful as bullying education is actually more prevalent in schools than consent education and may have more of a foundation for understanding. Share with him stories from the girls' perspective like this one.

This personal story is one you may want to share, too. Short version: teenagers have some major consequences when nudes get leaked. You may also want to direct him to a site like Scarleteen which is written especially for teenagers with sex ed in mind (thanks, reader Lauren, for calling this one out to me!). This article is particularly useful.

Legal consequences aside, keep on educating your son about consent whenever you can, and whenever something in the media prompts it. It's too important and misunderstood to not be reinforcing constantly.

Let's hear from other Homies for some advice:

It sounds like you've actually been doing everything right! Sometimes kids will make bad choices anyway (you know, that whole bit about their brains still developing and not quite grasping long-term consequences yet). As a teacher, I'd suggest a lengthy grounding from the phone/internet, and a sincere apology letter to the friend. – Terry

What I like about this response is that it makes it clear that the pressure was something the merits an apology. That it wasn't an acceptable thing to ask of anyone and that it merits a response.

"No more phone and maybe some time volunteering at a anti-domestic violence organization." – Augustus

Or if you can't find an in-person place to volunteer:

I complete see the logic in volunteering, but maybe some kind of fundraising or distanced support would be more appropriate — a minor wouldn't be allowed into a domestic abuse shelter/charity and the people there are vulnerable. It's a great idea to connect him to those causes but it's not responsible to get him (or anyone who isn't a trained support worker or therapist) to physically go there. Some domestic abuse charities run workshops in schools about consent/healthy relationships/revenge porn etc., maybe look into that for the school too? – Roisin

"I like the suggestion of volunteering some time at a domestic abuse shelter. Kids and teens make mistakes, it's important to use this opportunity to teach him, rather than just punish him. Good luck! Edited to add, I also second a heartfelt hand written apology to this girl!" – Dana

"I would avoid punishment. Sexuality and desire is not anything to be ashamed of. Have a direct conversation about how these feelings and desires are normal, but this is not a healthy outlet for them. Discuss consent, what is a healthy outlet for sexual desire, be open with him. Then ask what he thinks would be an appropriate way to make it right with his friend." – Kristin

"Ask him why he thought it was ok… especially since it sounds like she repeatedly said no. Sometimes people, adults too, need to hear it aloud, unfortunately. And keep asking; Why did you ask her to send these? Everyone is doing it, I thought she would, etc. And explore each branch thoroughly till you get to the root." – Kelli

"Such a problem area with tweens and teens at the moment. We teach students in junior high kids across the US about the power of their clicks. Never before in human history have our young people had so much power to quickly and radically change the trajectory of their lives as they do today. 'When you click, will you choose to be awful or awesome?' 'Now screams loud, but later lasts longer. Don't let the digital now ruin your later dreams.' These are phrases we use with kids. As a parent, I believe he loses all digital privileges because life is a series of choice and consequence. And, at the same time, I would clearly show him what the path to regaining trust and access looks like. It's his choice! I love the 'love and logic' idea about volunteering or maybe helping with prison ministry. Stay strong, parents! I don't think this particular parent 'has gone wrong somewhere.' Instead, it sounds like a crisis has been averted, it's time to be thankful, and continue being an awesome, vigilant parent. – Protect Young Eyes"

  1. I'm so, so glad this is a conversation that's happening. We can raise our sons to be better men if we have the right tools and have conversations with our sons and with each other, instead of saying "Boys will be boys" (ugh, hate that phrase so much).

    9 agree
  2. Lots of good stuff to consider. And I like the parallel drawn between bullying and pestering for nudes.

    Although Kristin is right in not punishing someone for their sexuality or desires, I think it's reasonable for the boy's BEHAVIOR to have consequences (be it The Talk, community service, suspending internet/smartphone privileges, face to face apology to the girl/her parents, or some combination). That distinction between thoughts and deeds should be made very, very clear.

    I apologize for sounding sexist AF, but is there a Dad or uncle or other male role model that can ask the boy, "Do you think that's something *I* do?" Hearing the message from a fellow male might help drive the point home that this isn't "a woman's problem."

    25 agree
    • For what it is worth, I don't think this sounds sexist at all. When we live in a patriarchal society, especially one where (certain types of) women are becoming more vocal about the atrocities they face daily, there is an argument to be made for there being a "safe space" of sorts for men to be able to discuss the pressures patriarchy places on them as well.

      Like, it blows the big one that people listen to my male counterparts more than they do me in a conversation about misogyny, but perhaps in cases such as this it can be used as a teachable moment and an act of male solidarity with women.

      11 agree
    • As far as saying the dad has to be the one who talks with the boys, simply because someone wants to say, this isn't a woman's problem, well, I think it takes both parents to discuss things like this with the son.
      You notice how our society is always pushing dads up to have conversation with the daughters and people running their mouths to say a girl needs her dad to give her high self esteem? This is not true, but we still tell dad to have conversation with the daughter. We can't have a double standard, so if we are going to push dad up,to talk to the daughters, then we need to give mothers the same rights. That is the mother's son whom she gave birth to. So if he does something as wrong as pressuring girls to send nude pics, the boy's mother has absolute rights to have a conversation with her son.
      I'm sorry I can't accept double standards and sexism. Dads do not have more rights, than mom, to have conversations with the don and daughter. Both parents can dtalk about bullying and pressuring others. That's why this world is in such bad shape as it is. See, it's because we have tried to give dad too much power over the children.

      2 agree
  3. This may sound somewhat alarmist, but you may also want to point out to him that if the wrong person found out he had those photos, he can actually be prosecuted for possessing child pornography. Several cases of this have actually made it into the news. That may at least curb the behavior, while you work with him on addressing the underlying attitudes causing it.
    Here's a NYT article about it: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/14/us/prosecutors-in-teenage-sexting-cases-ask-foolishness-or-a-felony.html

    14 agree
    • Funny you should mention that- the ONLY time I ever sent nudes to a boy was when we were both teenagers (and they were polaroids, because it was pre-cell phone days, and yes, boys still pressured girls for naked photos before cell phone cameras existed). He stashed them in the glove box of his truck, which, because he was a minor, was technically owned by his father. And this one time, the cops searched the car and guess what they found? Yeah, not a good time for anyone.

      8 agree
  4. I think it's important to realize that this issue is about two very separate behaviors. Sexuality (enjoying sexting) should not be shamed or punished; ill-treatment of other people (not respecting someone's no) is another story.

    Sexting or exchanging pictures is something that people do. I don't particularly cuz it doesn't do anything for me, but as long as everything around it is ethical (read: consensual, honest, respectful), sending or receiving pictures is not BAD in and of itself.

    BUT they're both minors.

    So this needs to be addressed, IMO, rather like alcohol safety education. Yes, this is a thing people do, but because of the world we live in, it is VERY DANGEROUS for you to do this when you and the other party are underage. Attaching shame to the act is going to be counterproductive and frankly probably quite harmful, to both of them. If I were speaking to my child about this issue, I might say something like "there's no problem with just looking at porn – that's legal, as long as the actors are adults. I'm also not trying to say 'you're just a little kid so you can't do this'; the police could LITERALLY come arrest you for this if you are under 18. After that, if you and an (over 18) partner want to do this together, hey, it's a free country. Although it's a really big responsibility to have someone trust you with pictures like that, so I hope that you will be responsible enough to handle that."

    COMPLETELY SEPARATE FROM THAT:

    The issue of pressuring someone after they have given a clear no . . . THAT is a behavior that should totally be punished. I like the suggestions offered of losing tech privileges, an apology, and some volunteering.

    15 agree
    • I'd like to agree with you, Taylor (and with most of your points, I do), but sending nudes – though I agree is not inherently bad – is still plenty risky even if both parties are consenting, conscientious, adult, respectful, etc.

      Breakups happen, and when they're messy, respect can take a hit. Revenge Porn is becoming illegal in more and more places, but that doesn't make it stop happening.

      Online storage accounts get hacked (didn't that happen to Apple's servers not too long back?)

      Computers get sent in for service, and I knew more than one computer tech who would start every repair job with copying all the porn off the hard drive. They had MASSIVE stashes of porn, and didn't think twice about sharing. "That picture's on MY hard drive now, so now its MINE. I can do what I like with it."

      Sharing nudes opens you up to so many ways to be vulnerable. I would encourage anyone (young, old, male, female, or otherwise) to try to find SOME other kind of sexyfun that has less potential for exploitation.

      Safe sex is more than just a condom.

      7 agree
  5. I would be careful about using positive behavior, like volunteering, as a punishment. Sure, it's a good use of the kid's time in the moment, but then they associate that behavior with punishment. It's the same reason parents are advised not to use food as a reward.
    I agree that an apology is necessary here. All the kids involved need to understand that this kind of behavior is a violation of boundaries and that the person in the wrong is the one who solicited the pics.
    I also like the idea of talking to the kid about consent and appropriate ways to explore sexual feelings.

    14 agree
  6. Making him stand in his underwear on the side of the highway with a sign saying I WOULDN'T STOP PESTERING TEEN GIRLS FOR NUDES should do it. Or having a policeman come and tell him how it's a crime to have child pornography.

    5 agree
  7. It’s the perfect opportunity for you to develop a better and more open relationship with your son. Part of the problem today is that we are too connected and spend less time talking. The first thing that I would do is take away his phone and computer privileges unless he is supervised by an adult. The second thing would be to educate on all the legal, social, psychological, and especially the sexual component as well as the abuse related issues. At age 13, the child is not mature enough to handle the potential sexual aspects of this situation. When my children were teenagers, they were not allowed to date until 16 and I still believe that maturity needs to be developed before a sexual component is added. No one has spoken concerning family counseling or even individual counseling for the child but this should be a consideration. If at 13, the boy is insisting on nude photos, then there might be a psychological component that the family is missing. It’s always best to at least confer with an expert such as a juvenile psychologist instead of asking a question on a message board and getting advice that might or might not be beneficial.

    2 agree
  8. Is there a way to make him empathize with the girl? Punishments like taking away his phone, or making him apologize will ring hollow if he doesn't actually feel like he did anything wrong. I don't know exactly how to put him in a young woman's shoes? Maybe ask him how he would feel if one of his guy friends was harassing him? If they threatened to spread lies about him if he did not comply to their requests? How would he feel if he received nudes, knowing that the young woman who sent them felt coerced or violated? How would he feel if naked photos of him were passed around? I don't have kids, but I teach K-8th, and everyday I think how grateful I am that social media did not exist when I was in middle school!

    2 agree

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