Tag Archives: girls

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


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.


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.



Review: Anti-bullying film Finding Kind not only misses the point, it also perpetuates harmful stereotypes

The issue of bullying has gotten a lot of attention in the last couple of years, and while most of that has resulted in raising awareness and developing new policies to protect children, not all of it is good. Some of those who have jumped on the bullying bandwagon have done so because it is a ticket into the spotlight, or because they feel they have something important to contribute to the discussion.

Sometimes their intentions are really good but their understanding of the big picture falls short. They don’t get it. And what they put out there can actually make things worse by muddying it up in people’s minds.

That’s exactly what struck me about the anti-bullying documentary Finding Kind. Perhaps you haven’t heard of this film or the “Finding Kind campaign” surrounding it. Started by Lauren Parsekian and Molly Thompson, two recent California college grads, it documents a road trip they took across America to explore what they describe as “girl world” and promote a return to kindness. They edited together their interviews and testimonials from girls in elementary, middle and high schools, along with their own narrative perspective. They promote their film and Finding Kind campaign through the media, their website, and their own paid appearances.

When I saw Finding Kind at a Montreal-area high school last week, I was struck by both Parsekian and Thompson’s earnest commitment to making things better for girls everywhere. I was further impressed by the genuine compassion and energy of the high school guidance counsellor at the high school viewing I attended, who introduced and moderated the event for all the students in her school. And I really liked the underlying notion of teaching children the importance of kindness. There’s no question in my mind that our whole society would benefit from a newfound emphasis on civility, respect and compassion.

But I really hated the movie itself.

Why? Several reasons. First and foremost I took issue with their borderline misogynistic portrayal of “girl world.” Using anecdotal evidence and recollections from their own lives, they portray girls as essentially vicious, gossipy and backstabbing. According to them, this has always been the case, and they replay a scene from some forgotten 1950s-era black and white film to prove their case. See how mean that actress  playing a high school girl is? Apparently that proves their point.

According to Parsekian and Thompson, this is all to be expected. Apparently meanness and cruelty are just built into female biology. It seems we are always extremely jealous of each other and also terribly unsure of ourselves, and so we hurt each other. This excerpt from their website attempts to explain their point:

With the constant pressures girls face to look and act a certain way, competition and jealousy have gotten in the way of functional friendships. While males have been taught to compete in sports and to view each other as comrades, females have been taught to compete with each other, and view one another as threats. This is a concept we must unlearn quickly. It’s common to hear girls complain about how unfair it is that boys can maintain a group of friends throughout a lifetime, but for girls, having ONE true friend makes you lucky. These facts are evidence of the lack of connection and respect that we are talking about. We are here to change that.

Huh? What facts are they talking about exactly? This has not been my experience at all. And when I look at my three daughters, I see them surrounded by friends who enrich their lives. If the selectively chosen snippets of select interviews with girls aren’t enough to prove their case, they also conduct interviews with boys on the subject of mean girls. All of them, from teen boys hanging on the street to a pack of biker dudes, concur that girls can be catty and horrible. Some of the boys actually meowed and pretend to flash their claws to emphasize this.

At least twice we are told that boys can punch each other in the face and be totally fine with each other next day. As an educational consultant who frequently deals with schools about bullying issues, this wrongheaded portrayal of both sexes struck me as not only inaccurate, but also sexist and frankly quite dangerous.

But in this alternate reality, the key takeaway is that boys can let stuff slide and aren’t essentially mean like girls are.

Now to be clear, I am not disputing that girls can bully each other in terrible ways. I am very well aware of the cruelty that can be displayed between girls, from exclusion and rumours all the way to hair-pulling and beatings.

But that is only half the story. Nowhere in Finding Kind do we hear of the tremendous compassion, nurturing and love that girls can also show each other. We don’t get any stories of the small things girls do to stick up for their friends, or a classmate, or even a total stranger. Those things happen regularly, but to hear Parsekian and Thompson tell it, you’d think they were the first ones to discover acts of kindness and introduce it to the schoolgirls of America.

Check out this awesome list compiled by Soraya Chemaly of different programs, campaigns and other ways in which girls can be kind, compassionate and positive role models for others: She Heroes7 WonderliciousBlack Girl ProjectAdios BarbiePrincess Free ZonePowered by GirlsBlack Girls Rock!Spark MovementMiss RepresentationBrainCakePigtail PalsGirls’ Leadership Institute.

The whole gender essentialism story isn’t new. Girls and women have been told of their instinctive inborn faults for millennia (though the faults themselves may vary and be called different things, like hysteria or moral weakness or lack of intelligence). But this is all the worse because it comes from two young women who should know better, promoting their own self-interested kindness campaign as a solution.

The other reason this film made me cringe is because of the overly simplistic and facile solution it proposes to the complex topic of bullying. If only we could just be nice to each other.

Ooh. Why didn’t we think of that before? I guess our pretty little heads were too full of cookie recipes and the rumours we were planning to spread about our friends.

Actually, bullying isn’t even about nice at all, so Finding Kind totally misses the point. At its core, bullying is about social power. People who bully do so in order to shore up or improve their own tenuous spot in the social hierarchy. Sometimes they do it to frighten others into submission. Sometimes they do it to take down someone they perceive as a social threat. Sometimes they do it to show others how powerful they can be at manipulating others. There are many reasons.

And although the promotion of kindness is a lovely and laudable idea, it doesn’t even begin to take into account the underlying motivations for schoolyard (or online) cruelty.

So when they kept referring to their Finding Kind campaign, I was confused. I actually turned to the person next to me and said “What exactly is their campaign?” She told me it was to bring the message of kindness into schools, with pink bracelets and t-shirts or whatever.

That’s the whole of their campaign. Be nice.

So what’s wrong with telling girls to be nice? A lot.

My very perceptive friend, Lina Gordaneer, (also a blogger and the coolest high school librarian around) explains it succinctly:

Although I think we need to have more empathy for others, and I do see a real disconnect in the girls between how they see their behaviour and how they judge the behaviour of others, I think the last message we need to give our daughters is to be nice. They already know they should be nice. That is what good girls are: nice. […] But sometimes girls have legitimate disagreements and real reasons to be pissed off, and they just end up apologizing for their anger. The being “Nice” message is taken by our young girls to mean that they are not allowed to get mad or angry or disagree. In this way, the Finding Kind movie causes more harm than good.

Finally, I must take issue with the producers, who put themselves in the spotlight of their film and campaign. Unlike some critics, I didn’t mind their perky, conventional California beauty or frequent hugging, squealing and mugging for the camera — the high schoolers in the auditorium with whom I was watching the film seemed to identify with all that. But I must question how this plays into the media embrace of their admittedly empty shell of a campaign. There is no question in my mind that Good Morning America or CNN has been more willing to embrace them because they look so damned adorable on camera.

I just can’t help wondering whether this film would have enjoyed the same reception if they looked or acted like many of the girls particularly at risk for bullying in North American schools: those with special needs, learning or developmental delays, those with physical handicaps, mental health issues, kids who are overweight, gay, dealing with family dysfunction, anger management, lacking psychological resilience, self-esteem or just generally unable to advocate for themselves effectively.

In one scene near the end of the film, Parsekian features a long-ish interview with a woman she went to school with as a child, who poignantly describes the years of bullying she endured. And while Parsekian confesses she wishes she had spoken up for her in all that time, her sincerity falls flat. I cringed throughout that entire scene, waiting for the really significant moment where she would surely apologize for the part she played as a bystander in perpetuating the bullying.

I waited for nothing. There was no apology. How utterly, terribly disappointing. What a missed opportunity to showcase her newfound kindness.

So do I think showing it to a bunch of high school girls was a waste of time? No. Not when handled with the appropriate kind of facilitation, as I saw in the high school I visited last week. The conversation with the girls at the end of the film was adeptly steered by the guidance counsellor towards written apologies and pledges of kindness. Perhaps some of the message of kindness seeped in to some new places. That’s always a good thing.

But I do wish we could address the incredibly destructive idea of an inherently nasty “girl world.” Instead of telling girls they are mean and must do better, can we not also celebrate their acts of compassion and generosity? That kind of positive reinforcement and altered expectations will surely do more to raise the bar.

Because sometimes the kind is right there in front of our faces and we missed it because we weren’t looking.