Tag Archives: social media

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.


Anti-social media: What parents need to know about Ask.fm

Ask.fm postDo these jeans make me look fat? Does she really like me? Who are my real friends?

These are just some of the questions that get asked on ask.fm, a social media site that allows users to invite anonymous answers. Kids put those kinds of questions out there in the hopes that they will learn the “truth” from people who don’t feel compelled to spare their feelings.

They hope the “truth” turns out to be good news: No, you don’t look fat. Yes, she truly likes you. I am your real friend xoxo.

But too often, it doesn’t work out that way.

Freed by guarantees of anonymity and emboldened by the computer screen standing between them and the person they are hurting, kids can say terrible, hurtful things. Ask.fm is often involved in cyberbullying incidents — from casual cruelty to death threats. There have been a number of bullying-related suicides linked to use of the site, and one British family has released a public statement asking that the site be taken down following the suicide of their 16-year-old son.

Launched in 2010 as a rival to similar sites like Formspring and Honesty Box, Ask.fm has since surpassed them in popularity. The Latvian-based site reportedly has over 40 million members. The site can be linked to Facebook and Twitter, so questions can be posted to friends and followers. Ask.fm has courted controversy because it doesn’t have any of the reporting, tracking or parental control processes you can find on other social media sites. (Click to Tweet.)

Some schools in the UK and Hong Kong have sent out letters to parents advising them not to allow their children to use Ask.fm.

What do parents need to know?

  • Sites that allow anonymity reduce inhibitions. Kids who wouldn’t be cruel face-to-face and don’t get to see the consequences of their actions may feel justified saying hurtful things online.
  • Seriously consider telling your children they are not allowed to use Ask.fm. For more information, stories of bullying online and support from other parents dealing with the fallout from ask.fm-related incidents, check out this popular Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/AskFmShouldBeDeleted.
  • Whether you allow your child to use the site or not, have a conversation with them about civility online, flaming, and how anonymity might change how people act. 
  • If you choose to allow your child to use Ask.fm, show them how to use the privacy tab in their settings to block anonymous posts, so that all comments are linked to the names of account holders. 
  • Users can also create a blacklist to block comments and posts from those known to be cruel and/or aggressive online. 
  • If your child chooses to link Ask.fm with their Facebook account, they can adjust the settings in Facebook so that posts are seen by the following: public, friends, only me or custom settings (allowing them to choose specific friends). 
  • Supervise your kids’ activities online, especially on sites such as these. At minimum, you should have their username/ password and sit down with them once in a while to monitor what’s happening online. 
  • If your child is involved in a bullying incident on Ask.fm, tell them not to respond. The best option is to delete the app and account. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Ask.fm does not have any formal reporting mechanism, so you cannot get the perpetrator blocked by the site. 
  • For more information for parents about Ask.fm, consult this Webwise Guide.


Hot or Not? Your nine-year-old is on Instagram

Beauty is skin deep

From Hollee Actman Becker http://huff.to/16sN8mj

A few weeks ago, I had one of those humbling, weak-at-the-knees parenting moments. Another mother was relating a story about bullying and miscommunication on Instagram when I realized her daughter was 10 years old. In fourth grade. Same age as my youngest daughter.

Instagram? For nine and ten-year-olds?

I panicked. Was my littlest girl on this picture-sharing social network. I had no idea. Me, the social media “expert,” totally unaware what my own kid was doing. Huh.

Truth is, this whole conversation took me by surprise. I had never thought of discussing Instagram with her. It never occurred to me that this was a conversation to be had with a fourth-grader. We were too busy talking about spelling words, long division, why she was now old enough to walk the dog by herself but not yet old enough for babysitting.

When her older sisters were in fourth grade four short years ago, all the kids had Nintendo DS games. No social networks. No “liking” and “friending” and “following.”

It seems a lot has changed in the intervening 48 months. Most of these nine and ten-year-olds have iPod Touches or iPads of their own. They use email and FaceTime and Skype without a thought. And though I don’t know of any of her peers who are on Facebook yet (though the average age in North America for a first Facebook account is 11 years old), it seems many parents either don’t know or don’t understand what it means for their children to be on Instagram.

This Huffington Post article does a great job explaining exactly what it might mean. Author Hollee Actman Becker uses one of the preferred analogies in my parenting workshop: “…letting your child have an Insta (you knew they called it that, right?) without teaching them how to use it properly is like buying your kid a car without teaching them how to drive.”

Exactly. We are handing them the keys to this incredibly powerful communication tool without teaching them how to use it safely, how to protect themselves and how to avoid hurting others.

Right now you are possibly wondering how anyone could really get hurt on a picture-sharing social network. Turns out there are many ways. Actman Becker describes the incredibly popular use of the site for beauty contests among tweens (especially girls):

See, right now, as I sit here typing this, there is a tween girl with an iPhone somewhere making a grid out of four pictures of her besties using Instacollage or Mixel or whatever cool new app is making the rounds this week (omg Juxtaposer is sooooo amaze!)

When she’s finished, she will post that grid on Instagram, and then write something along the lines of: BEAUTY CONTEST! VOTE SOMEONE OUT!

Did you just throw up in your mouth a little? I know I did when this whole thing blew up here on the Main Line over the weekend.

And I’ll get to that in a minute.

But wait. That’s not even the worst part. Because what happens next is this: People will actually vote for who they think is the least attractive in the comments, and whichever girl’s name is written the most will be awarded a big fat X drawn across her face.

Whether your child ends up with the X across her beautiful little face or not (or whether s/he is merely a spectator to this demeaning, reactionary kind of representation), it’s clear that kids are getting hurt. And it’s not their fault.

It’s ours. Because we didn’t teach them it wasn’t OK. Mostly because we didn’t know we had to talk about this with our fourth graders.

In my case, I resisted the panicky urge to call her school and have her brought to the office to tell me over the phone if she even had an Instagram account. (Turns out she didn’t – “Mom, you already told me I couldn’t have a Facebook account yet so I figured I couldn’t go on Instagram either.” Which officially makes this the first time this, um, spirited child has ever not tested me to the absolute limit. Shocker. And I don’t expect this miraculous compliance to last long.)

Moreover, the story from the other mom of a fourth grader that inspired this whole post wasn’t about these beauty pageants either. It was about how the usual social drama of ten-year-old girls gets exponentially magnified and distorted in an online world where clicking “like” makes you someone’s favourite friend or not.

But the whole experience taught me that for parents, the world is moving much faster than it used to. I can’t assume the digital experiences of my older daughters will be true for my youngest. A lot changes in four years. And it taught me that teaching digital citizenship needs to begin with our youngest kids as soon as they learn to click and swipe. Like teaching them about sex, drugs or alcohol, if you’re waiting for your kids to come to you for advice, you’re waiting way too long.

What parents should do:

  • Tell your child they need to ask for permission to open all social network accounts.
  • Make sure you have their username and password.
  • Review their posts and comments from time to time.
  • Make sure their account is set to “private” and geotagging is turned off.
  • Make sure they know to never, ever give out personal information like their real name, address or phone number? Many kids don’t think twice about mentioning the name of their school either, but that’s clearly a really bad idea.
  • Get your own Instagram account and follow them. You need to know what your children are doing.
  • Explain that they must never, ever post a picture that might hurt or embarrass someone else.
  • Explain that anything they post on the Internet is written in ink – it’s there forever.
  • Explain why they shouldn’t be posting pictures of themselves in bikinis or revealing bathing suits (yes, I know your nine-year-old still looks like a baby in her bikini, but there are a lot of ways that representation can be used to hurt her).
  • Talk to your child (girls and boys) about how those Instagram beauty contests are demeaning and hurtful. They are not just a silly game done just for fun. In a world where the Steubenville rape victim was further victimized for reporting her assault, where bullying victim Amanda Todd was judged by other girls as a “slut” for impulsively giving in to exhortations to flash her 12-year-old boobs at a webcam, these images have meaning.
  • Suggest your kids ways they can turn this around with more positive kinds of pictures (see image attached). Tell them to speak out when they see beauty contests promoted among friends and followers, and how being a conscientious objector can help them be safer, more respectful digital citizens.