The Naked Truth
The Naked Truth
When I asked my 14-year old daughter if I should post this article, she said, “Ugh. Yes. Please!” That’s the same daughter who stunned me last year with her strategy for handling a sext request. Her closest friend had taken a picture of a nude eyeshadow palate and said, “Send them this – they’ll never ask for another nude.” Genius. Sexting is a thing. And solicitations to sext, possibly an even bigger one.
Lisa Damour, the author of this outstanding article, is a new friend. We connected via email after I read her book Untangled (which any parent of a tween or teen girl really should read, or any person with an interest in the girl brain for that matter). Shortly after, we met in real life, one afternoon when she was in LA on a speaking tour. Sitting in a small café, our conversation went a mile a minute. Since Lisa and I are roughly the same age and our work lives share tremendous overlap, we seemed to cover every possible topic. We got to sexting in the first 20 minutes.
Sitting by the window watching people walk by, most looking down at their phones, I described to Lisa the evolution of the sixth grade “Body” class that I have taught for several years now. In the olden days, I asked girls about body image and self-respect. But as phones have filtered down to younger and younger owners, and as cameras on these phones have become ubiquitous, I have added a new question – a very specific one: Have you or anyone you know been asked for a nude? And from the very first time I asked, which had to have been three years ago by now, 100% of the hands went up.
Now let me be clear, 100% of the sixth grade girls had NOT been asked for nudes. But all of them had either been directly solicited or knew someone on the receiving end of that request. Maybe it was an older sister or a friend-of-a-friend or even an adult. Didn’t matter to me, though. By 11 or 12, girls were completely unfazed by the question, which meant we needed to be talking about it.
Lisa and I spoke a lot about boys, even though she focuses most of her work life on girls. That’s because we both know, based upon what we do, that you can’t leave boys out of the conversation. This has been a strategic error in the empowerment of girls, one that needs to be course-corrected. Whether we’re covering body development or hormonal surges or sex or violence, talking to girls is critical but so too is talking to boys. They face the same physical shifts and emotional triggers and chemical surges and social pressures, albeit in different directions much of the time. But we must include both groups if we want everyone to be healthier and safer. The recent spate of sexual harassment scandals have shed a pretty harsh light on this. And it’s one of the main reasons, I believe, that American Girl was willing to publish my latest book, a body handbook for boys. Even one of the most successful girl-oriented brands in America recognized that if they did something amazingly well for girls, they should share the wealth with boys.
And so, even if you dread reading this article because it’s going to add one more thing to the list of things that you cannot un-know about your kids, do it. Lisa gives tools to deal with the issue at hand and, trust me (or trust my daughter!), it’s an issue. Then have the conversations, awkward and cumbersome as they may be. Have them over and over and over again. And, because so much sexting happens late at night when your kids are a little bit bored and feeling overwhelmed by the onslaught on text and social media, get your kids’ devices out of their bedrooms when it’s time for sleep.