What Does It Mean to Send Nudes and How to Talk to Your Child About It?

You may have heard the term “nudes” before, but do you know what it means? Nudes are photos or videos that show someone’s naked body or private parts. Some kids and teens may send nudes to their romantic partners, crushes, or friends, either because they want to or because they feel pressured to do so. This can be a tricky issue to deal with as a parent, especially if you find out that your child is involved in sexting (sending or receiving sexual messages or images).

When we were kids, taking and sharing nudes was not really possible (unless you had an old-fashioned camera, and even then, you had to wait for the film to be developed). But now, with smartphones and social media, kids can easily snap and send nudes in seconds.

This can be risky for many reasons. According to a study in JAMA Pediatrics, 1 out of 4 kids say they have sexted. Sexting can have legal consequences, as it can be considered child pornography. It can also have emotional consequences, as nudes can be leaked, forwarded, or used for blackmail. Some kids may even get unwanted nudes from strangers or bullies, which can make them feel violated, scared, or ashamed.

How to Support Your Child When They Face Peer Pressure About Nudes

Sexting and sending nudes are not new phenomena, but they have become more widespread and accessible with the advent of smartphones and social media. A few years ago, an article claimed that “sexting is the new first base,” reflecting a social norm that is still prevalent among many kids and teens today. Asking for, sending, or receiving nudes is often seen as a way of flirting or showing interest in someone.

But this can also be a source of stress and anxiety for your child, especially if they don’t want to participate in sexting or feel pressured to do so. They may worry about what others will think of them, whether their nudes will be shared or exposed, or whether they will get in trouble with the law or their parents. They may also receive unwanted nudes from people they don’t know or like, which can make them feel violated, scared, or disgusted.

  • Conversation Starter: “We may not have had smartphones and social media when we were in school, but people were always pressuring us to do more than we were comfortable with. I just wanted you to know that I understand how that feels in case there’s ever anything you want to talk about.”

It was inevitable that sharing explicit photos, commonly known as sexting, would become a somewhat typical yet still risky behavior among kids. Almost a decade ago, an article highlighted that “sexting is the new first base,” shedding light on a social trend that continues to be prevalent in middle and high schools nationwide. The exchange of explicit images has become an initial step in many romantic and sexual encounters.

Consider this for a moment—whether or not a kid has any intention of sending or receiving such images, their decisions are often scrutinized or compared based on the prevailing social norms among their peers. This can be overwhelmingly stressful and, frankly, unfair. To better empathize with your child’s experiences, share instances from your high school days when you felt pressured.

  • Initiate a Conversation: “Back in our school days, we didn’t have smartphones and social media, but the pressure to go beyond our comfort zones was always there. I want you to know that I understand how it feels, and if there’s ever anything you’d like to discuss, I’m here for you.”

Engage in Ongoing Conversations About Growing Up

In our time, The Talk usually referred to that birds-and-the-bees conversation with our parents, covering the basics of human sexuality—or, at the very least, where babies come from. It was typically a one-time discussion. However, in today’s world, given the complexities introduced by technology, we suggest having continuous “Talks” with your kids, especially addressing sexual content. It may not be the easiest task, but it is incredibly crucial.

When your kids reach an appropriate age, initiate discussions about sexting and the potential repercussions of sharing explicit images. Equip them with the ability to recognize such situations and guide them on what steps to take if they encounter them. Reinforce the idea that they can always confide in you about their life. Clarify your family’s standpoint on sexting and communicate your expectations. Emphasize that you understand the challenges they’re up against.

  • Open the Conversation: “As you grow older, you’ll encounter new aspects of sexual content, and I wanted to revisit our family values on this matter. Let’s make it a point to check in occasionally to ensure we’re both on the same page.”

Sharing naked pictures of minors is illegal and falls under the category of child sexual abuse material (CSAM)—even if both individuals involved willingly participate. Sexting laws vary across states, and they can be complex, so it’s crucial to conduct some research and understand your state’s stance on the matter. Some jurisdictions may have “Romeo and Juliet” provisions, which mitigate the severity of the offense when the parties are close in age.

  • Initiate the Conversation: “Have you ever thought about what might happen if you share explicit images? Do you believe it’s something that could lead to legal trouble, like involvement with the police?”