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April 26, 2022

Ask Lisa Podcast - Episode 78

My Daughter’s Nude Selfie Got Out. What Do We Do Now?

Episode 78

A parent writes in asking how to pick up the pieces after her daughter shared a nude selfie with a boyfriend who then sent it to other boys at school. Dr. Lisa and Reena talk about how impulsive moments can lead to serious consequences, what can be done to make things right, and the legal implications of sharing nude photos. The episode also addresses what to say to kids about requesting, sending, or unexpectedly receiving nude photos, and the simple–but often overlooked–change to school policy that can make a big difference.

April 26, 2022 | 26 min

Transcript | My Daughter’s Nude Selfie Got Out. What Do We Do Now?

Ask Lisa Podcast, Ep. 78: My Daughter’s Nude Selfie Got Out. What Do We Do Now?


The Ask Lisa Podcast does not constitute medical advice and is not a substitute for professional

mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being,

consult a physician or mental health professional.


REENA: You know, I’m still struggling with the cellphone issue because fifth grade graduation is coming around the corner and lots of kids end up getting the cellphone. I am not giving in, Lisa. I’m not giving in. I’m standing firm.


LISA: Stick to your guns, Reena. Stick to your guns. And there’s options beyond cellphones. There’s a few different devices that are really good looking phones that text and do all sorts of things but they do not get kids on to the internet.


REENA: That’s good to know. Apparently my son says that makes you a pariah, very uncool But I’m sticking to it. I say, Dr. Lisa tells us it’s not time yet, not time yet.


LISA: Until you can’t get together with your friends, then we’ll have that conversation.


REENA: That’s a great point, but you know there are things that you just can’t control no matter how many conversations you have, and we got this note asking for some help here: “Dear Dr. Lisa. My daughter texted a naked photo of herself to her boyfriend. He then shared the photo with his guy friends. My daughter is absolutely shattered. We live in a small town with one high school. While she has some supportive friends, the guilt and shame and anxiety of facing other kids feels unbearable. She has since dumped a boyfriend. I still don’t think he fully realizes what he’s done. I want to help her move past this, but even I feel the rush of these emotions too. How do I help her move on? What should we focus on now? And will this ever go away?” I’m stuck on that last part, will this ever go away? Because I can imagine it doesn’t feel like it will.


LISA: Yeah, this is a really tough one, Reena, and it just breaks my heart. It’s such an easy mistake to make, which I know people feel like it’s not like it’s not that easy, like we tell kids it all the time not to do it, but it can happen so impulsively.


REENA: Oh yeah.


LISA: And its ramifications are so huge, and so it happens. It happens a lot.


REENA: What do you think the parent can do here?


LISA: Well, in some ways not a lot, and I think that’s why this is such a tough letter. There’s not a huge amount of recourse that the parent has. So, I think there’s the helping her own child get through it and and find a way to live with it, and there may be some steps that could be taken if you know it’s still being passed around, passed around, you know there may be some steps and let’s come back to that, but I think a lot of empathy and a lot of love for this kid and just saying, okay, you messed up, you know you weren’t supposed to do that, but what’s happened has happened. We can’t change the past and let’s hope it just sort of quietly goes away on its own, and it might. I mean, Reena, the only thing that gives me strange comfort in this is it’s not that unusual for nudes to exist. She’s not the only kid and there may be a kind of an old news quality to this pretty soon, and that would be in many ways the best possible outcome is if everybody gets bored and moves on to the next thing, and that would be what I would hope, but can’t be guaranteed.


REENA: And it’s that last question that the mom asked, will this ever go away? Because as you’re experiencing this, it must feel like an eternity and it must feel like this is never going to end.


LISA: It must. I mean it’s the nature of being a teenager especially is that the moment you’re in, feels like it stretches for ever, and so I think to the degree that the pack and say you know what? This is going to be a thing that happened, it will not follow you forever, it will quiet down eventually or soon. Your job is to kind of hold your head up high and try to just march forward and not make a big deal of it, not be reactive to people who are making a big deal. I mean I think there’s not a ton that this young woman can control at this point, but she can control her reaction, and I will say there’s this tension around should she be trying to talk about it? Should the group be trying to talk about it? Get people to stop sharing it? See what’s going on with the sharing? Or should she try to see if she goes quiet about it, if it helps the whole thing to go quiet. I mean there’s no clear answer, but I think there could be a cost, especially if it is starting to die down, there could be a cost to continuing to to focus on it if other people are moving on.


REENA: She mentions it’s a small town. Do you suggest that you go to the school to bring this up?


LISA: This is where things get very complicated very fast. So, there is a legal side to this.


REENA: What? They’re kids.


LISA: Yeah. They’re kids. They are kids. So, Reena, this is so messy and I am not a lawyer, so I’m not saying this is the legal information people should go with, but here’s the reality. Every state handles things like this differently. Nude photos that are passed around, generated by and then passed around among adolescents, kids under age 18, and some states have penalties for it. Some states wrap it in under child pornography laws.


REENA: What?


LISA: Yes, and this is really delicate.


REENA: So you’re saying if this is my kid, who shared the photos, and you come to me talking about it and then you’re telling me maybe there could be legal? Like I am going to shut you down. Like what?


LISA: Yeah, no it’s pretty weird, and truly, Reena, it is state by state, and so parents, if this is something that’s happened or happening in your life, you should know how your state handles these, and what’s interesting, Reena, is there are states that have been like, it doesn’t make sense to pursue legal consequences for 16-year-olds who make and generate this kind of imagery the same way we went for adults who are creating and generating this kind of imagery. Like some states have really tried to sort out legal pathways that are bluntly more developmentally appropriate, but not all states have, and so you should know, a family should know what’s at stake here if they start to seek help because they might also want to seek help through the police, right? There’s another element of this, which is it can’t continue to pass this around and the laws in your state say, you cannot keep and/or distribute this kind of stuff. The family might have a legal leg to stand on in terms of coming down on or saying something to the kids who were passing it around, but they also need to be aware, their kid created the content and shared it first, and so they will need a very good lawyer to help them think through what makes sense in terms of trying to pursue any legal support because, and they may say, we’ll pay the fine, we’ll do whatever for what our kid did, but again, depends on what your state does around things like this in the name of trying to shut down other kids’ distribution of this, but this is messy, messy and I would want the adults involved to have a very good handle on what the potential legal ramifications are of seeking help, either at the school level or the state level.


REENA: Wow, I was not expecting you to say that. Lisa I guess I want to ask you, how does she recover from this? The mom’s asking, how do we move past this?


LISA: Well, we also don’t exactly know what led up to her doing this, and what we know, we’ve actually research this, often when girls send nudes, as they call them, often they’ve been harassed to do it, often they been given a really hard time to do it, often they’ve been threatened to do it. You know it’s interesting, everybody’s like, why did she do that? And sometimes we get the backstory, it’s pretty rough, and one could certainly picture oneself as a seventh or eighth or ninth or tenth grader having a hard time managing that well. But it also may very well be this was a boyfriend that was like, no, no, no, I won’t show anyone. It’s just for me. That kind of thing happens, but what’s interesting is, what was this boy thinking? To share this. That was so awful.


REENA: Often they’re not, at this age right?


LISA: It may have been just a dumb impulsive thing, but it’s also very destructive dumb, impulsive thing. So, one thing, and again there’s so many variables and so many weirdnesses at play in this that we just don’t know, but one thing that might be a path to pursue, is this girl to be like, yeah, I shouldn’t have taken it and sent it, but if people are going to be weird and difficult about this, why aren’t they coming down on him? You know to really be like, you know, turn your dogs on him not me, right? Everybody knows we were dating, everybody knows that I would never had sent that if I thought he was going to share it, like why don’t you guys go give him a hard time? What is pretty good about teenagers these days, they’re like, yeah, you’re right. They are very empowered these days to stand up for what’s right, and they’re better feminists than they’ve ever been, and so one recourse she may have to be like, yeah, okay fine. I shouldn’t have done that but like why don’t you guys bring down on him what you’re bringing down on me because you all know that what he did was completely out of line.


REENA: Wow, so interesting. Speaking of empowerment, how do you help her just see herself in a good and normal light again and pick up the pieces? What helps in moving on?


LISA: I think doing other stuff, focusing on other things. It’s interesting, Reena. It can be very, very helpful to focus on a problem, talk about a problem, that can sometimes bring tremendous relief, and sometimes it just makes it worse. You know, the more you talk about it, the more you look at it, especially when it can’t be solved. I think there’s a delicate balance of making room to discuss it, making room to discuss how embarrassing and awkward and painful it might be, and then saying, okay, it’s a thing that happened, you are a whole person. Show me what you’re doing at school, let’s find a job that you like, let’s do all sorts of things, you know, really building out the fullness of who this young woman is and not having this be some event blocks out everything else that is true about her because she’s a person. She’s a complex, interesting person, and so pushing in that direction, helping her move in that direction, and then maybe having some coaching around some language if brings it up or says something be like, you know what? I shouldn’t have sent it, and you all know he should not have shared it. Just being really ready to redirect the conversation and stand up for herself.


REENA: Do you think she recovers from this?


LISA: Yeah, I think she can. I think she can. You know, there’s a lot of forces we don’t know about, but if it were more rare, I think I’d feel less optimistic, but honestly, Reena, I think there’s a lot of photos like this floating around.


REENA: Yeah, yeah.


LISA: Which isn’t great. I don’t think it’s a good thing, but we don’t really get it, as adults, I think we don’t really appreciate the frequency with which these kinds of things occur, and of course if it’s you and your kid, it feels like the end of the world, but I think in a given community this is not an altogether rare event.


REENA: That’s interesting, and I can see that. I can see exactly. How do you think something like this can be prevented?


LISA: Okay, well don’t give kids phones. That’s not really an option. I think you talk about it, talk about it, and you have a game plan and you talk kids through a game plan, and I have to tell you boys get asked for these, boys send these. There are a lot of, as they say, dick pics, floating around. Somehow in the great double standard that completely process, this is not seen as damaging and they’re not unusual. So, I think the first conversation you want to have with your kid of all, any, gender is to say, what are you going to do if somebody asks you for a nude? And just have a plan, and kids will come up with a variety of things. They’ll say, I’ll just block that person forever, I’ll just say no. My favorite thing is a teenage girl who, somebody asked her, and she was like, oh do you like dirty pictures? And the person was like, yeah. And she was like, oh, I’ll send you dirty pictures, and then she sends pictures of things like mud and dirt. So stuff like that, which like I love it, absolutely love it, but I want to go back to that point about kids get harassed for these.


REENA: Wow. Yeah.


LISA: We don’t really understand how rough it can be.


REENA: Right.


LISA: And so it gets to this second thing that we need to say to kids which is, never ask, like ever. You are never, ever, ever to ask for nude, and, Reena, this is the thing that kind of blows me away. We’ve been on top of this thing, like don’t send nudes, don’t send nudes. We have not actually been, as adults, good at saying, it is completely out of bounds for you to make the request.


REENA: So true. Oh my gosh.


LISA: It’s so true. It’s so true, right? Like if you can’t send them, you can’t ask for them. And it does happen that kids out of nowhere send an unsolicited nude, but most of them are requested.


REENA: Okay.


LISA: And so, can you imagine, Reena, being a tenth grade girl with a crush on the twelfth grade boy and he’s super popular and super cool and he’s like, send me a nude.


REENA: Oh, gosh. Yeah. Yeah. I get it. Totally get it.


LISA: Right, that would be hard. He should not be asking. He should not be asking, and nobody should be asking.


REENA: That’s interesting because I was thinking if I’m the mom of the boy, if I’m a boy mom, what’s the conversation that I should be having with my son about this?


LISA: Well, I do think it’s the same conversation we should double their daughters but it is the boys were more likely to be asking them to look at the data. So, I think you say to your son don’t you ever, ever ask for a nude, and he says, yeah but what if it’s my girlfriend? What if we’ve been together forever. You say, you are putting somebody in a horrible position to ask them to hand over to you nude photos that then are out of their control, and if you care about that person, you would never put them in that position. And, I totally get it that there are adults who have a happy sexting life. Okay, that’s fine. Rock on, you’re over 18, you do what you want to do. When we are talking about kids and long term ramifications, I think we want to be really clear, nobody who cares about you will ever ask for this and nobody you care about you should ever ask for something like this. If you care, you would never ask. So, I think that’s where we start, and then you say, he says, well what if I get one, right? Like what if you’re one of the friends who’s like, whoa, where did this come from? You say to him or her, whoever it is, you delete it immediately and you pretend like you never saw that. You have no idea what that thing is. You delete it. You delete it.


REENA: I never thought of that to tell them to delete it if they get one. Wow.


LISA: Immediately. Immediately. Because actually, in some states, if someone sends you one and you don’t delete it, you’re on the hook.


REENA: What?


LISA: Yeah. I mean, it’s again, like you held on to child pornography in some states and so delete it immediately and you don’t have to say to them, and then you have to tell me, right? He may not want to tell you, but basically say you can never ask and if anything arrives unsolicited, delete it. Didn’t happen.


REENA: Do you think there’s more things that schools could be doing.


LISA: Actually, I do. I’m glad you asked.


REENA: Really?


LISA: So, in my ideal world I would have schools make a rule against requesting because a lot of schools have on the books rules against sending or sharing nude photos. A lot of them have them under their proper use policy, appropriate use policies, for internet behavior, online behavior. They’ll have things like, do not you know share, send photos that are racy, but a lot of them do not have the, do not request these photos and this is something I actually wrote a column about in The Times awhile back that if we’re going to penalize kids for asking, we should equally penalize them for requesting. These should be on equal footing at least. And here’s why I think it really matters for schools to make this policy. If schools make this policy, which is you are not to ask, like it is completely over the line to ask for a nude, then the kid who gets asked has a recourse. So, say there’s a twelfth grade boy who’s going to say to a tenth grade girl, send me a nude, send me a nude, or it may be younger or whatever, and the girl doesn’t want to do it, she can say, and I’m just making up grade levels. This could happen at any grade level. If you ask me again, I’m going to tell the school.


REENA: Oh whoa.


LISA: And then she could go to school and be like, do you see this exchange with this kid? And so it basically it’s like cutting it off at the pass. You know, not leaving it to the kid is being asked to have all the fortitude needed to deal with the request. Like, we shouldn’t be asking this of kids. If we know what’s wrong to send them, it is wrong to request them. If we make policies and rules with some teeth and let kids know that they’re there for them, we can help kids out quite a bit here in ways that we just have not thought to do.


REENA: Wow. Gosh, there’s so much I hadn’t thought of here that you bring up. I also want to ask you about this mom who’s also experiencing this since she says it’s a small town. What advice do you have for her as she’s processing and probably having to face her friends in the community?


LISA: Yeah, I mean I think she may be mad at her kid, which I get, and to the degree that she is, I hope you can vent it elsewhere and not at her kid, because her kid needs her support right now, and getting mad at her kid at this point isn’t going to make things happen different. You know it’s not going to change what happened, but I also, I guess I would say rather than being on her heel about this, on her back foot about this, you know, if somebody brings it up, I think she should say, you know what? My kids should not have sent it, and believe me, you and I both know she never would have sent it if he thought he was going to do what he did, and what he did was out of line. What my kid did was out of line, but what he did was out of line too.

I would encourage the parents to redirect some of the ire away from her child or some of the shame away from her child because what that boy did was wrong and you can’t really measure, well who was more wrong? It doesn’t really matter. But the nature of the problem changed very dramatically when he did what he did.


REENA: You know, we’ve talked about this a lot with friends about whether you should talk to the other parent. In this situation, do you advise the mom reach out to the boy’s parents?


LISA: It’s a really good question. I don’t know, Reena, I don’t know, I mean especially because there’s all this legal stuff that could be tied up in it.


REENA: Right. Right.


LISA: What I can say is the mom should probably do whatever the daughter wants her to do. So, if the daughter’s like, actually could you talk to his folks? I think that would help. Then I think that’s a great idea. If the daughter’s like, oh my god please do not call them, calling them is not going to make the situation better, certainly not for the daughter.


REENA: You know, one thing I’m amazed at throughout the course, this podcast over the seasons you have said, take cues from your kid, which something, as a parent, I don’t think I’ve really valued enough.


LISA: It’s a funny thing. I think adults generally don’t. You know what I mean? I don’t think this is you. I think so often in our conversations about really tricky stuff, we forget how much information our kids have, how many opinions they have, how many viewpoints they have. We see them as more inert than they really are and I think you’ve got so many variables to work with. You’ve got so many hard decisions that if you can slow any process down and check in with your kids about where they are and what they want and what they think and what they know, you’ll do a better job with whatever the situation is. It just means it’s a slower, more complex process, but it’s a better process.


REENA: Wow. So, Lisa, on this note, wow. What do you have for us for parenting to go?


LISA: Well, Reena. This is another wonderful time for me to bring up my favorite rule about technology. It should not be in kids’ bedrooms. And this is a good example of why, actually. That maybe this nude photo was taken in the living room, who knows, but in all likelihood, it’s when kids are behind closed doors that they do dumb things, and dumb impulsive things, and so this is another great example of why it’s really, really helpful to keep technology out of kids’ rooms and some kids need to do their homework in their room, no question, but when that homework’s done, the technology should come out of the room, it should not be there overnight. The more the technology exists in the public spaces of family life, the less likely it is that kids are going to do something impulsive and destructive.


REENA: Wow. Another reason I never thought about keeping technology out of the bedroom. Makes great sense.


LISA: Yep.


REENA: So, thank you, Lisa. It’s a lot to process.


LISA: It’s a lot to process again. I know. I know, Reena.


REENA: It’s like you hit me over the head with a lot of stuff I didn’t expect or see coming, but this is great. I’m grateful.


LISA: And we’ll put the column of mine in the show notes because one of the things that was really nice when it came out as I know that several schools changed their policies to give kids better protection. So, if any listeners want to encourage their schools to use the summer to update their handbooks, I would be very happy to help in that department.


REENA: Great call to action. Very important. So, I’ll see you next week?


LISA: See you next week.

The advice provided by Dr. Damour here will not and does not constitute - or serve as a substitute for - professional psychological treatment, therapy, or other types of professional advice or intervention. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being, consult a physician or mental health professional.

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