‘We would hope that our young girls understand that there are other ways to be popular.”
That was Duxbury Schools Superintendent Ben Tantillo commenting on the discovery this month of pictures of 50 female students from Duxbury HS in “varying states of undress” in an online drop box.
There’s no indication, apparently, that any of the students at the Massachusetts school had the photos taken while they were unaware. In fact, the local police chief announced that many of the photos seem to be selfies.
So is Tantillo right? Are girls sending nude pictures of themselves in order to be popular?
A lot of ink has been spilled trying to figure out why kids sext. In a 2014 piece in The Atlantic, Hanna Rosin describes the typical scenario. A boy keeps asking a girl over and over for naked pictures of herself and eventually she gives in.
As Rosin writes of one such girl: “He asked a dozen more times, in different ways, and one night the text came as she was getting out of the shower. ‘What are you doing?’ he texted. ‘I just got out of the shower and I’m about to go to sleep.’ ‘Send me a picture, PLEASE.’ She caved. She sent it over Snapchat and said he had to let it erase right away. He said he did.”
Nancy Jo Sales’ new book, “American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers,” chronicles the lives of some 13-year-olds in Montclair, NJ, who regularly get requests from boys at their schools to “SEND NOODZ.” If they do, they’ll be branded sluts, but if they don’t, they’ll be branded prudes.
The girls simply want to fit in. Their sexting is not so much a bid to be popular as a plan not to stand out by saying no.
There are, of course, girls who initiate these interactions. Writing recently in Acculturated, Amy Anderson described sitting in a nail salon when a notification from the app Kik appeared on her phone. “Up popped a hi-def picture of a young woman’s unadorned crotch, with the message: ‘Hi!’?” She had loaned the phone to her high-school-age son a few weeks earlier and apparently he was the intended recipient.
So how do we teach kids that it’s OK to stand out? How do we explain that popularity now doesn’t translate into long-term success?
A 2014 study by researchers at the University of Virginia published in the journal Child Development suggested that the fast kids — the ones who were smoking or drinking before their peers or whose relationships with the opposite sex had moved at a faster pace than those of their classmates — weren’t doing as well when they were young adults.
Joseph Allen, a professor who led the study, calls this “the high school reunion effect.” He told CNN, “You see the person who was cool . . . did exciting things that were intimidating and seemed glamorous at the time and then five or 10 years later, they are working in a menial job and have poor relationships and such, and the other kid who was quiet and had good friends but didn’t really attract much attention and was a little intimidated is doing great.”
It’s hard to get teens to think that far ahead. But there are things parents can do to ensure that their influence matters at least as much as peer influence.
One is limiting how much time they can spend on social media. That girls are getting text messages around the clock asking for nude pictures or that they’re constantly checking to see what’s being said about them on social media is a problem. Not only does it make it harder for them to focus on school work, but it makes it harder to build a family culture.
The magazine Fast Company recently ran a profile of a woman named Vanessa Quigley, founder of Chatbooks, a subscription-based service for digital photos. Quigley, whose company has received $9 million in seed funding, credits her success to her “weird” upbringing.
The oldest of 12 children, Quigley grew up outside of Orlando with a small menagerie of animals. It started with just a dog but then her father brought home a goat. And then it was zebras and cows.
Once, her father hired a butcher to come take care of a cow. As the article describes, “The children from the neighborhood watched it all, half-covering their eyes. As the butchers drove away with Little Moo’s carcass, it left a trail of blood down the road.”
This is not the kind of experience that makes you the most popular kid on the block, needless to say. She says her upbringing helped her develop a certain kind of entrepreneurial spirit.
“It was just, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if we did this?’ Just anything that would pop into my dad’s head. We just learned everything on our own . . . I just grew up being different,” recalls Quigley, “and loving being different.”
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.