Reader Email: My 14yo daughter sent shirtless photos to a boy

Hi Rebecca,

My daughter has had her phone since the beginning of High School 18 months ago. She has no social media, her phone is only allowed downstairs in the living areas and she is quite controlled with her usage. I have access to her phone and she knows I can check it whenever I want.

She has a lovely group of friends with parents who have similar ideas on using phones. She does well at school and although she is quite private, I feel we have a good relationship.

We have had many conversations about what is appropriate to text. We say ‘whatever you send to anyone, act as if tomorrow they become your worst enemy and could use it against you’. 

Last week I received a call from one of her friend’s Mums who told me that she saw messages between her daughter and a boy at school, who said that my daughter had sent him shirtless pictures. (We know this is a boy she likes).

I honestly thought this is some kind of nasty joke. This would be so out of character for my daughter. She won’t even change in front of her friends.

I looked through her phone and saw messages between her and the boy that confirmed some type of photo was sent.

My husband and I asked her about it and she denied it multiple times. We read her messages out to her and she admitted it.

At the beginning of the year our daughter asked for whatsapp because it was good for group chatting when people have different brands of phones.

What I now know is that whatsapp has a function where you can send a photo to someone and it only lasts a short time (I think until they close the screen) and it will notify the person if someone tries to screenshot it.

My daughter had gone into our downstairs bathroom and taken a picture in her sport bra and sent it to the boy she liked on whatsapp.

What was most shocking about all of this, is that he didn’t ask for it, or pressure her for it in anyway. She sent it because she thought he would like her more. It’s amazing how liking a boy caused her to be so thoughtless about the possible consequences.

I feel I have taken so many precautions, we have had so many talks. She definitely knows better. I’m not sure what else I could have done to prevent this. Besides not allowing whatsapp.

I personally don’t use whatsapp but my husband does and he wasn’t aware of this photo function. Thought this may help someone.

I really appreciate reading other parents’ stories that you share. I actually read a lot of them out to my older children, as they are great real life examples to relate to.


Dear Sam

I am not an expert in this area. For what it’s worth, here’s my advice …

1.Social media + smartphones + hormones + teen brains = big mistakes. Our kids are going to screw up even when we have firm boundaries in place. (I HATE to think what I would have done at 14 in 1986 with a smartphone!)

2. It’s normal (I think) to be upset/disappointed and frustrated as a parent when our kids screw up. But in the end, we want our kids to know they can come to us when they make a bad judgement call. We want our kids to think “I have to tell mum and dad” NOT “Mum and dad must never find out” when they mess up. If we lose our minds at them when they mess up – they will keep everything hidden and never tell us anything. This can have catastrophic consequences.

3. The reason (I think) teens send nudes or sexy photos is because it’s a way to test out your sexuality and your appeal, you can control what and how much you show in an image and sending a photo is often way less scary than getting physically intimate with someone. We just need to remind our teens that once you send a photo, it is highly likely it will be shared and passed around. Forever.

4. Even if that happens — the MOST IMPORTANT MESSAGE we can say to our kids is this:

Nothing ruins your life forever.

Not a nude photo. Not a sexy sports bra pic. We want to warn our kids about sharing photos but not scare them so much that they feel like they have to take their own life because the shame is too great. If you have a family who loves you – you can survive anything.

I don’t love that your daughter sent a shirtless photo. But I also don’t think it’s the end of the world. Talk to her. Talk about the risk she took. Talk about more powerful things we can do when we have a crush. Talk about how trying to hook a guy in with a photo of your boobs is kind of setting the tone for what you feel you have to offer (I am sure your daughter has more going for her as a girlfriend than just great boobs). Fourteen is a tough age. Go gently. x


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About Bec

Over the past 25 years Rebecca Sparrow has earned a living as a travel writer, a television publicist, a marketing executive, a magazine editor, a TV scriptwriter, a radio producer, a newspaper columnist and as an author.

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