Monthly Archives: November 2013

10 boys face child pornography charges: What parents need to know about sexting

Smartphone

Ten boys between the ages of 13 and 15 were arrested on child pornography charges in Laval (QC) last week, after they were caught circulating sexually explicit photographs of girls their own age. Laval police arrested the boys at their homes early in the morning on allegations that they had been taking the pictures of girls they knew – in some cases their own girlfriends – and trading the digital images amongst themselves.

All of the teens were charged with possession and  distribution of child pornography, while two of the boys also face charges for producing child pornography. The whole story is quite exceptional for a number of interesting reasons (click here to hear my discussion with CBC Radio’s Homerun host Sue Smith about this case):

There are several things that make this case particularly intriguing. To begin with, the girls were allegedly solicited by the boys to produce the images using a social media network called Snapchat, in which photos and videos can be set to delete after a few seconds. The boys allegedly grabbed screenshots of the images (or took pictures of the screens with their smartphones) before they deleted. A school staff member at one of the high schools the boys attend discovered the boys sharing the photos.

The second interesting thing about this case is the show of force from the police. Anecdotal evidence suggests there are many instances of sexually explicit digital images circulating in your average high school, a fair number of them without permission of the subjects.  The administrators, guidance counsellors and teachers I meet when presenting anti-bullying and digital citizenships workshops are at a loss for how to deal with them effectively. The fact that the police decided to make an example of this set of boys appears somewhat exceptional. And while the most recent Throne Speech promised a new law prohibiting the non-consensual distribution of intimate images, that hasn’t yet come to pass. The Montreal Gazette reported furious reactions from the parents of the boys facing charges that their minor children were attested on charges such as these.

Which brings me to the third interesting thing about this case: minors being arrested on child pornography charges. It’s not the age of the accused that counts here; it’s the age of the alleged victims.

So what are the prime takeaways here? What do parents need to know?

Minors can be arrested for possession of child pornography. Even if it’s consensual. Even if she’s your girlfriend. Parents must tell their sons (and their daughters) that having sexually explicit images of someone under 18 wearing anything less than a bathing suit is a crime.

Any adult who comes into possession of such an image needs to be scrupulously careful to document where it came from and why. This includes teachers, principals and parents who see these images as part of cases involving their children and students. Since possession itself is illegal, you need a clear paper trail explaining that this was part of an investigation.

The girls involved need long-term support and help. It’s important not to overlook the victims here. These girls (and in other cases it may be boys) are at serious risk for bullying, coercion, blackmail, assault, depression, anxiety and a whole host of other problems. Care needs to be taken to help them manage the situation and follow-up with them over time (see here for another blog post on this subject).

The boys allegedly involved need guidance, support and rehabilitation, not just punishment. If allegations are true, then real harm was done here and the boys need to face the consequences. However, what they will need more than punishment is the education, support and guidance to understand what they’ve done wrong. They are still kids themselves, and we do everyone involved a disservice if we abandon an educational mandate in favour of a punitive one.

Anything in a digital format needs to be treated as permanent. Snapchat’s gimmicky self-destruct option offers only the illusion of control, thanks to screenshots and images taken with other devices. And this incident shows just how dangerous this illusion can be. Kids – and many adults – don’t always have the tech savvy to comprehend this. Parents need to explain this carefully and repeatedly to their kids – anything on the Internet is written in ink. No do-overs. No delete. My rule of thumb is that you never post anything digitally that you don’t want your mom to see. (Click to tweet this.)

Digital technologies are tools, not problems. It’s easy to blame the Internet, or Snapchat, or smartphones or digital technologies in general, but the underlying issue here is education. Parents and schools need to make sure kids understand the implications of the powerful communication vehicles at their fingertips, and we need to start this conversation as soon as they can click or swipe.

If you know a child who has suffered from having a sexually explicit image of themselves circulated online, then I suggest you check out the excellent resources for kids, parents and educators at Cybertip.ca.

My thoughts are with the girls whose nude images have almost certainly gone past the high school halls in the town of Laval. If they made their way onto the Internet at large, they may be haunted by those pictures for the rest of their lives. There is no way to get them back.

My thoughts are also with the boys at the centre of these allegations, who may well have made serious mistakes the implications of which they are only just beginning to comprehend. And my thoughts are with the parents of all of these kids, who may well feel bewildered and entirely unprepared for the kind of parenting this case appears to require.

 

Why you need to think ahead to preventing risky behaviours while your kids are still little

Power of Positive Parenting flyerWhen parents of small children hear about kids who have problems with alcohol, drugs, smoking, unsafe sexual practices, cutting or gambling, they tend to think something along the lines of “Wow, I’m so glad I don’t have to worry about that stuff YET. My kid is only in a) day care b) kindergarten c) 5th grade. I’ve got YEARS before I need to think about it.” They are wrong. Decades of research on risk and protective factors underscore the importance of the things we do with our kids when they are small. What do I mean by that? Not necessarily discussing the nitty gritty details of prescription drug abuse, binge drinking or condom use on the way home from the playground (though if you are waiting until they are 12, it’s too late). I mean understanding what factors put kids at risk and what we can do to make them more resilient. Learn strategies to teach them self-control, problem-solving and decision-making. Teach them how to speak up for themselves. Help them practice active coping skills. Next: Give them information about these things in small, steady, age-appropriate ways from the time they are old enough to appreciate your family values – do you have a glass of wine with dinner? Does Grandpa like a glass of scotch in the evening? Does anyone you know smoke? Avoid – at all costs – lecturing them in one single Talk (which usually comes well after they have (mis)educated themselves with schoolyard theories and Google). You can see here for one example of how we can turn this kind of conversation into a less awkward, more practical everyday affair. Want to know more? Come join us tomorrow to hear the how’s, where’s  and why’s of these strategies in a talk at the YM-YWHA tomorrow evening, November 12th at 7:30 p.m. 5400 Westbury Ave. (corner Cote Ste. Catherine). Register: 514-737-6551 ext. 258 or sbenmergui@ymywha.com

Father’s, daughters, self-esteem & intelligence: A peek at advice to fathers from Dr. JoAnn Deak

Fathers and daughtersAs the dad of three daughters, my husband occasionally finds himself confused by the goings-on in our estrogen-heavy household. He’s a man of few words, but I can tell by the expression on his face that he often has no idea what precipitates the occasional tears, shouts, stony silence or defiance from one of our girls. And yet at other times, he is able to get through to them with a prescience and insight that defies my understanding.

Neuropsychologist Dr. JoAnn Deak gave a presentation at the Trafalgar School for Girls this past week to fathers only of teenage daughters, on the subject of self-esteem and intelligence. I wanted to attend as a journalist and writer, but I was politely told Dr. Deak was quite firm on this gender-based attendance. I’m a huge fan of Dr. Deak’s work, having written about one of her previous presentations on brain elasticity in this very popular post from 2011. Nevertheless, my male sources at the event have filled me in on some of the key takeaways for those of us who weren’t there.

First of all, why the hardline on dads only? This was partly because a fathers-only event encouraged a kind of bonding, a safe space to talk amongst themselves. The other reason has to do with one of the lessons from decades of brain imaging — females have a more developed linguistic part of the brain. Our superior language and verbal skills tend to be evident when moms and dads attend events together and mothers dominate the conversation.

All of the fathers who attended were extremely pleased with the workshop, even though it drew them away from any Halloween activities and got them downtown on a cold, rainy October night. The consensus was that they really appreciated Dr. Deak’s messages about how dads can positively influence their daughter’s self-esteem and intelligence.

Among her key takeaways:

Be sure to spend time with your daughter on a regular basis. Studies show that girls whose dads choose to do activities with them have higher levels of self-esteem than those who do not.

Engage your daughter in physical activity. Moms aren’t always as good as dads at getting their daughters to enjoy sports and physical activity. Since men tend to interact well by doing things, it’s an easy way to make sure there is shared time.

Listen, then talk. You want to hear what she has to say, and she needs to know you are interested in hearing from her not just holding forth about your own opinions.

Don’t shout. Not only can deep male voices be particularly intimidating to young girls, but the overall impact can be to make your daughter(s) accustomed to being shouted at by the men in her life. Obviously not something she should ever accept as OK.

Get involved in her school. Mothers tend to be the ones most likely to volunteer at their children’s schools, but dads send a powerful message of support when they lend their time.

Teach her about finances. She should get this message from her mother too, of course, but dads can be particularly effective teaching their girls about balancing checkbooks, budgeting their finances and saving their money. Too many young women fail to achieve financial independence, which can lead to a whole host of life-altering bad choices involving the men who may pay their bills.

 Talk to her about boys. Don’t leave this to her mother. Fathers have insight into the mysterious male mind in important ways, and girls want — and need — to know. Teach her about respecting her body, resisting pressure, maintaining her dignity. Remind her that boys also have doubts, concerns and a need to connect emotionally with the right person. Even the most awkward, stilted conversation powerfully conveys how much she counts in your mind. (Click here to tweet this.)

Treat the women in your life as you would want her treated. Your daughters are watching to see how you treat their mother and women in general, and in doing so they are learning what to expect from the men in their futures. Set the bar high. (Click here to tweet this.)

Encourage her to push past her comfort zone and take some risks. Girls’ brains tend to be physiologically differently than boys when it comes to risk-taking and fearing they have made mistakes. This can be traced to the relative size of specific brain structures and the impact of hormones (read more in this blog post). But pushing your daughter slightly out of her comfort zone during her childhood and teen years (when the brain is most elastic) can actually rewire those brain structures so that she takes more risks when acceptable to do so (take on a new job, put together an ambitious business plan, aim high with her education, etc.).

Hug her often but respect her space. Your daughter will thrive on these physical reminders of your love, but as she grows from a girl into a young woman, you might want to move from tight bear hugs to looser “tent” hugs.

Want to know more about Dr. JoAnn Deak and her messages about understanding brain elasticity in how we raise and teach our kids, help girls thrive and more? Check out her website and line-up of books. I personally recommend How Girls Thrive to parents of daughters everywhere.