More revealing than the nude celebrity pictures have been our reactions to the theft.
A common response – “just don’t take naked selfies” – misses the most critical point. Digital sexual behavior is part of the dating and relationship landscape. The criminals who hacked celebrities’ accounts, stole private photos, then sold or reposted them violated those women and their privacy. They also sent a loud message to everyone else: Your data is not safe.
And celebrities are hardly alone in capturing intimate moments with a phone.
The way parents talk to their children about this case lays the foundation for how upcoming generations will think about a shifting landscape of intimacy and privacy.
Several studies suggest that your child will, at some point, encounter a sexually explicit phone message. This will probably happen younger than you think. While fewer teens are having sex than in previous generations, they are more likely to use digital devices to experiment with sexuality.
Nearly a quarter (20 percent) of middle school students with text-capable cellphones admitted to receiving a sexually explicit text, according to a study published in Pediatrics in June. A 2012 study in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine found that one-quarter of teens said they have sexted. By college, those numbers are much higher. A 2013 study from Indiana University and Purdue University found that 80 percent of the college students surveyed had received sext messages, and nearly half, 46 percent, had sexted with pictures.
A report from the Pew Research Center released in February found that 20 percent of adults surveyed say they have received a suggestive picture, up from 15 percent two years ago.
If your child has a smartphone or is friends with someone who does, this latest news about celebrity photos merits a conversation. As evident from this and so many other cases that have been in the news, the consequences of virtual sexual behavior can have real-life impact just as damaging to lives and reputations as behavior offline.
The names involved in this particular case, however, are ones your child has likely heard; these are stars they have likely seen on television or in the movies.
When I broached the topic with my own tween daughter, she interrupted me to say that the strangest picture she’s taken of herself is of her making a duck face. I was glad to hear that, but there were a few points I wanted to make clear about what had happened to actresses including Jennifer Lawrence.
I told her the basics of how the celebrities’ private photos had spread. Despite a few eye rolls and “I already know,” I said (again) that there are ways people can get into your phone and computer without your permission and use what they find to hurt you. We talked about ways to try to protect our privacy.
It may be easier for parents to pass judgment on celebrities who are victims of perverts and thieves. But if we want to try to protect our children from being victims – or perpetrators – of such crimes, we need to start those discussions from a different place. And the conversation about values needs to go a step further.
It’s just as much a crime to break into someone’s phone or computer and steal an image as it would be to break into their house and walk out with the china.
It’s not OK for this to have happened to Lawrence because the pictures were taken in the first place.
It’s not OK for those pictures to be spread around the Internet because people say she’s hot.
Harassment is never a compliment.
There is a difference between what someone wants to do with another person and what they don’t want to do. It’s called consent.
Looking at a private picture that someone does not want you to see is a violation of that person’s consent.
There’s no shortage of sexually explicit photos on the Internet for those who want to view them. An image becomes more valuable when we don’t want others to see it.
These may seem like heavy concepts to discuss with a child, but they can be explained in simple terms. And the younger we start talking about the various ways in which we respect another person, the longer we have to reinforce those ideas.
Aisha Sultan is a St. Louis-based journalist who studies parenting in the digital age. On Twitter: @AishaS.