Many girls interviewed wanted more guidance on what to do if someone harasses them with requests for explicit photos.
A recent study has shown just how common it is for teen boys to coerce or threaten girls into sending nude pictures: an analysis of 500 accounts from 12- to 18-year-old girls about negative experiences sexting found that two-thirds of them had been asked to provide explicit images — and that the requests often progressed from promises of affection to "anger displays, harassment and threats." In an article discussing the study in The New York Times, psychologist Lisa Damour writes, "Teenagers are drafted into a sexual culture that rests on a harmful premise: on the heterosexual field, boys typically play offense and girls play defense… Most schools and many parents already tell teenagers not to send sexualized selfies. But why don't we also tell adolescents to stop asking for nude photos from one another?"
The study by Sara Thomas of Northwestern University found that less then 8% of girls shared explicit pictures because they wanted to; the rest did so because of a desire to please, acquiesce to, or avoid conflict with a boy. Moreover, while researchers found that both girls and boys send nude photos to one another, boys are nearly four time as likely to pressure girls to do so than the reverse. If the pair was already dating, the idea was often normalized with claims like "everyone else has a picture of their girlfriend," and if girls hesitated, some boys threatened consequences to the relationship.
In some cases, boys also used existing pictures to pressure girls to send more by threatening to broadcast the previous ones. Boys not in relationships also asked girls for pictures, and almost 12% of the stories reported a barrage of requests from multiple people that left girls feeling that "requests for photographs are inevitable and unavoidable." But most notably, Thomas found that girls seemed to have no framework for what to do: "while many young women took on the responsibility of negotiating these pressures, they also reported expressing confusion… [because they] lack the tools to do so."
Damour, who explores this topic in depth in her book Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls, says that parents and educators can make simple changes to help support young women in this situation, starting by focusing as much on the requesting as on the sending by requiring greater accountability from boys making such requests. "It is of course true that simply declaring a new behavioral code will not erase a problem," she writes. "But rules can make a difference." When an adult says "it's not O.K. to request naked pictures because then you are putting someone else in a terrible position," it sets what Damour calls a "behavioral speed bump" that both girls and boys can use to counter adolescent impulsiveness.
It also gives girls something they desperately need: clear guidance about what to do if someone harasses them about sending a nude picture. "If parents and schools have made it clear that the requests are a violation," Damour points out, "girls would feel that they had the option of taking screen shots of them and seeking help from adults." By doing so, Damour, who is also the author of Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood, argues that we are "laying out high and equitable expectations for young people as they begin their own romantic lives [which] can only be a step in the right direction." After all, she observes, "In the wider culture, it appears we have suddenly come to the limit of our tolerance for the sexualized abuse of power by adult men. A logical next step is to recalibrate some of the toxic norms that have taken hold among teenagers."
Books on body autonomy, sexuality, and Responsible Technology Use
Kids can find confidence and courage in knowing they control their own body! This book teaches body safety skills, from understanding and knowing how to act on feeling uncomfortable with someone's behavior, to respecting body boundaries, to knowing your body — including private parts — by proper anatomical names, to building a support network you can count on when you need to talk. Throughout, kids are taught essential body safety skills that will help keep them safe as children, and help them grow up to be assertive and confident teenagers and adults. For another excellent title by the same author, check out No Means No: Teaching Children About Personal Boundaries, Respect, and Consent.
This book from the American Girl Library is a great starting point for tweens looking for advice on dealing with bullies and other people who push their boundaries. Rather than telling girls that there is a “right” way to handle a tough situation, this book gives a variety of different options, from ignoring taunts to comebacks to involving adults, as well as advice as to how to decide which strategy to use. The book acknowledges that not all mean behavior is necessarily malicious, though, and also provides a guide to knowing how to stand up to a friend who is behaving badly without being mean yourself.
Tweens are often eager to get involved in all the fun of the digital world, from social media to texting to online gaming — and while there's plenty of fun to be had online, it's important for girls to know how to use their digital tools responsibility and how to keep themselves and their personal information safe. In this newly revised and updated book, girls learn how to deal with cyberbullying, safety tricks, and more so that they can effectively and safely use their cell phones, tablets, and computers to enjoy the best parts of our digital, connected world.
The tween years are when many girls start thinking about romantic relationships — but without guidance, it's hard for them to know what a good relationship should look like. In this updated guide from the American Girl Library, girls will get sensitive and honest advice from both girls and boys about being friends versus dating; what it's like to go out with someone; and what to do when you're not interested in someone or when it's time for a relationship to end. Throughout, the book emphasizes confidence and reminds girl that the right person will treat you well, make you feel safe, and appreciate you for who you are.
When Mila wears a fuzzy green sweater to school one day, and suddenly, several boys insist on hugging her, even when she doesn't want to. Before long, there are smirks, comments about her body, and more unwanted touching that leaves Mila feeling confused, frustrated, and a little scared. But when she talks to her friends about it, one tells her that she's being immature for overreacting to the boys "just flirting" – after all, she says, maybe he just likes you. Fortunately, a few new friends and a confidence boost from karate classes help her figure out how to set boundaries, stand up for herself, and seek out the adult support she needs to put an end to the harassment. Timely and important, this empowering book draws a clear line between wanted, reciprocal flirtation and Mila's experience, and explores issues of sexual harassment in a manner relatable to middle grade readers.
Bridge, Emily, and Tabitha are best friends in seventh grade, all wrestling with their own challenges: Bridge is an accident survivor wondering why she's alive; Emily has a developing body attracting both wanted and unwanted attention; and Tabitha is developing her identity as a human rights activist. The three best friends have one rule: No fighting. But is that enough to get them through middle school, especially when a shirtless selfie gets sent out far and wide? This complex novel explores the confusion of the teenage years, the poor decisions that can emerge from that confusion, and the power of positive relationships to get you through any challenge.
In an effort to be “likeable” and “nice”, many teen girls feel pressured to avoid speaking their mind or asserting their opinion — they may even fear being labeled “bossy” or “pushy” if they’re too outspoken. This book is designed to help teens remember they have a right to be heard — and find the confidence to speak up! Written in an accessible and friendly tone, with individual chapters tackling common situations like family conflict, digital drama, and romantic relationships, this guide by psychotherapist Emily Roberts draws on techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy to teach your teen how to express her opinion, stand up for herself in any situation, and boost her self-esteem and confidence.
If the job of an adolescent is to become an adult, how do you know when they're there? Lisa Damour, director of the Laurel School's Center for Research on Girls, draws on the latest research to reveal the seven key transitions — including Parting with Childhood, Contending with Adult Authority, Entering the Romantic World, and Caring for Herself — that an adolescent girl needs to make before she reaches adulthood. Equally importantly, she shows how uneven progress through these transitions explains the sometimes erratic behavior of teenage girls, and how parents' responses can help strengthen their relationship so she can complete her journey healthy and happy.
Kids are increasingly immersed in highly sexualized content — and that gives them a broad and often distorted depiction of what is acceptable in sexuality and relationships. Cindy Pierce, a sex educator and comic storyteller, show parents how they can talk about sexuality, pornography, and relationships with kids, establishing themselves as reliable, accessible sources of information when kids (accidentally or on purpose) see material that they find upsetting or confusing. The overall tone is one of optimism and confidence: parents can discuss these issues with their children, and those discussions can — and do — make a difference.
Even as more parents become heavily involved in their teenagers' lives, few of them really know what their daughters are up to sexually – and how they feel about it. In Girls & Sex, Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, draws on interviews with 70 girls and conversations with psychologists, academics, and other experts, to discuss the sexual lives of girls. From sexual myths propagated by porn, to the "perfect slut" and why many girls disdain virginity, to hookup culture and its relationship to sexual assault, Orenstein takes a hard look at how the subtext of American life and culture influence girls' attitudes and behavior.
American girls are coming of age in a culture that has both hypersexualized them and normalized extreme behavior — including sharing nude selfies. Author Nancy Jo Sales spoke to more than two hundred girls across the country to document a change in the way girls grow up that transcends factors like race, household income, location, and more. Her unflinching look at the experiences of American teenaged girls serves to ignite important conversations about how social media combines with damaging social and sexual norms — and what we can do to help our girls thrive in their new world.
With sex education today often leaving young adults ill-equipped to make safe decisions, they often turn to peers, the Internet, and the media, where they receive problematic messages about sex: boys are studs, girls are sluts; real sex should be like porn; hookups are better than relationships. In this book, sexuality educator Al Vernacchio offers a progressive and realistic approach that challenges traditional teaching models and instead embraces 21st century realities by promoting healthy sexuality, values, and body image in young people. Filled with real-life examples from the classroom, exercises and quizzes, and a wealth of sample discussions and crucial information, For Goodness Sex offers the tools and insights adults need to talk young people and help them develop healthy values and safe habits.