I just learned a new way my teenagers get nudes they never asked for

Has your child ever got a « tail picture »? Have you ever asked?

A friend whose daughter is 13 recently asked if anyone knew about children receiving random unwanted AirDropped penis images. Airdropping works over a WiFi or Bluetooth connection and is basically a means of transferring files between iOS devices as long as people are in close proximity.

I had heard of unsolicited pictures of genitals on Snapchat and Instagram but didn’t know about AirDropped nude photos or cyber flashing until recently.

Was that something new? Are the people who happen to be taking penis photos AirDropping somewhere? How is that?

« Why do people think it’s okay to take pictures of their genitals, and beyond that, why do they think it’s okay to send AirDrop or send them via social media messages …? »

For a hot second I was shocked. But then I remembered my youngest daughter once weirdly AirDropping Peppa Pig into someone when we were at a museum in New York state. That day we laughed until our sides hurt when we thought that some random person all of a sudden just had a Peppa Pig photo on their phone. It was ridiculously easy to tell who had Settings wide open and was using an iPhone.

While my friend was appalled that a 13-year-old had received an unsolicited penis photo at school, I wondered when this behavior became a trend. Why do people think it is okay to take pictures of their genitals and, furthermore, why do they think it is okay to take them to anyone at any time and to anyone regardless of age, gender, gender or following basic social rules, send via AirDrop or via social media messages? ?


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So I did what I always do when I’m shocked and surprised and curious when something happens in tech or on social media that I don’t know about – I checked in with my teenage daughters and then did an online Security experts asked. Both confirmed that this behavior, cyber flashing, is a trend, but not new.

My children both grew up with digital media as a constant in their lives. I asked if one day while we were having lunch together they knew about AirDropping penis photos. Both immediately agreed: « YES, MOM. » It was in that tone, you know the one who says: OMG, how are you so naive?

« Mom, you have no idea, » they said. “Most teenage girls received penis photos at some point during high school. It is a daily event. « 

“Both immediately agreed: ‘YES, MOM.’ It was in that tone, you know the one who says: OMG, how are you so naive? « 

Sometimes it’s AirDropped penis photos. Often times, it is Snapchat that is the vehicle for unwanted nudes. But it doesn’t matter which channel or app it is, said my eldest daughter, who is 19 years old. She says being online is a constant factor and reality.

« Since we’ve been home and more on devices during the pandemic, it’s been happening more often than before, especially on Snapchat, » she told me. « But in school and in public, AirDropped penis photos are one thing. »

I asked her if that means that a random stranger within range of AirDropping or who is connected to Snapchat sent her a photo of a penis? « Just last week, » she said, adding that she was blocking these people. Occasionally she claps back.

It is completely unreasonable to expect children to withdraw from social media – whether on an Android or iPhone – so that they never receive unwanted pictures. Smartphones are a big part of their daily life. At the moment, this is often the only way to get in touch with friends.

But I wanted to know how to have these conversations and what to do if my child receives one of these inappropriate images. Is there some way I can block people from AirDropping photos or should I just tell them not to accept AirDropped content if they don’t know who is sending it and they aren’t expecting it?


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So I spoke to Paul Davis, a social media and online safety educator who often teaches online safety in schools. He told me that there is no way to avoid an unwanted photo at any point, but there are ways to manage that risk as a parent. He also said this behavior has been going on for years.

“You can’t forget what you’ve already seen,” he told me, “don’t give them too much technology too early. There’s no reason a 4th or 5th grade kid should have an iPhone. « 

I now agree as a parent. I gave my one daughter my old iPhone 4 (remember them?) When she was 13 and my younger daughter was a similar age when I got her an iPhone because she was playing competitive basketball with her school and I was through drove all over town to try find her afterwards. In hindsight, I wish I had waited until they were both in high school because they often spend too much time on their phones.

« … although I cannot always anticipate the threats or insults, good communication and the restriction of some attitudes is a start. »

Davis also advised buying an Android instead of an iPhone to get rid of the unwanted AirDrop photos. And he recommends that children only use social media from the age of 13.

But when – or when – your child gets their first iPhone, it’s actually very easy to deactivate AirDrop in the settings under the heading « General ». Later you can change the settings so that only files from known contacts are accepted. Changing your settings to Contacts Only will not completely fix the problem if a friend / contact at school suddenly decides to send one, but it will fix some of it.

Some things I’ve done include asking them if they’ve seen questionable content and then discussing how they dealt with it. We talk about blocking and reporting people on social media and when it’s appropriate. And I talk to my kids about not sending anything that they don’t want to see widely. My oldest daughter, now 19, does not recommend accepting requests to add people you do not know.

Social media is constantly evolving, as is technology, and while I can’t always anticipate the threats or insults, good communication and limiting some settings is a start.

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