“Private” Teen Photos: Talking About Risks
Dear Your Teen:
My 15-year-old daughter recently went to a video shoot with one of her friends. The video posted is very innocent (jumping off rocks at the lake) but some of the un-posted footage shows my daughter without her bikini top on. I am trying to have it deleted. My daughter thinks it’s “no big deal” and doesn’t understand why I’m upset.
I’m a professed feminist, and a mom. How do I articulate that her body is her own—but, at the same time, the attention she will draw to herself with this kind of thing is negative? She doesn’t think it is, and telling a teen that this will cause problems or embarrassment doesn’t work when Kim Kardashian poses naked every two seconds.
The feminist in me says, “It’s your body—you do with it what you want.” The mom in me is horrified and scared. I want to openly discuss feminism and body image while keeping her safe. I would love to have an expert’s thoughts on this.
It is certainly understandable that this situation raises important questions and conflicts for you. You highlight the most complicated part of the situation—balancing body-conscious/body positive decision-making with safety and privacy. And, you’re right. Children and adolescents are surrounded by mixed messages these days. We are constantly told that one can do what she wants with her body. However, she may also be judged for it—positively, negatively, or both.
As an aside, remember that a parent’s reaction to a woman being topless makes the most lasting impression on children and adolescents, not the bare chest itself. Seeing breasts in public can be positive for a child’s development, if discussed openly. With that, there are a few conversations to have when it comes to nudity:
Talking About Nudity
1. Talk about your family values and expectations. Tell her your feelings on public nakedness.
2. Address what she might see out in the world that may not be in line with your family values and expectations. For example, Kim Kardashian’s family may have different values and expectations than yours and that’s okay.
3. Talk about when and how it’s appropriate to exercise her right to be nude. One example—depending on your family values, lounging on a nude beach could be acceptable; having it filmed with a cell phone may not be.
4. Talk to your daughter about safety and privacy. Tell her how important it is to make sure she feels comfortable and safe in a situation. Particularly when she chooses to be naked. And remind her that photos last a lifetime. I always ask teens, are you comfortable seeing this photo or video posted in Times Square? If the answer is no, then do not take the picture.
While this is not the easiest of topics, I commend you for asking these questions and I encourage you to have an open dialogue with your daughter. You want her to be aware that she can come to you with questions and that you’ll do your best to answer them, no matter what the content or how different your views are.
Dr. Mandi Silverman, PsyD, MBA, is a clinical and school psychologist at the Child Mind Institute.