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New Research from Thorn: Many Kids Sharing Nudes Before Parents Talk to Them About Safety

August 3, 2022

4 Minute Read

At Thorn, we know that talking openly with kids about online safety not only increases their knowledge about the topic but their willingness to tell a parent when issues come up. 

We also know that having conversations about online safety, including topics like sharing nude selfies with others, can be awkward and difficult.

Our newest research findings reflect this, showing that fewer than 1 in 3 parents have talked to their children about sharing SG-CSAM (self-generated child sexual abuse material, or “nude selfies”) – and that parents are unsurprisingly hesitant to specifically discuss this difficult topic with their kids.

The study, The Role of Caregivers: Safeguarding & Enhancing Youth Resilience Against Harmful Sexual Encounters Online, shows that this hesitancy often stems from a discrepancy between how often and how early parents believe children are sharing nude selfies and kids’ self-reporting of this behavior.

Here’s what else we found – and why it all matters:

Parents generalize talks about online safety with their kids.
This often comes at the expense of explicit discussions that can help kids recognize and navigate the distinct risks of grooming and sharing nudes online.

  • QUICK STAT: While 2 in 3 parents have talked with their child about social media and digital safety, fewer than 1 in 3 parents have talked with their child about sharing nudes of themselves.
  • WHY IT MATTERS: While bringing up the topic of online safety is important, avoiding specific topics like grooming and sharing nudes can leave kids unsure how to navigate tricky and unsafe situations when they arise.

Gender plays a pervasive role in how parents discuss nude selfies with their children.
Caregivers of girls were twice as likely to exclusively blame the victim of leaked nudes compared to caregivers of boys. They also perceive higher levels of risk for girls experiencing online sexual activity than boys.

  • QUICK STAT: Over half (57%) of parents think girls should be talked to at younger ages than boys. They also perceived higher levels of risk for girls experiencing online sexual activity than boys.
  • WHY IT MATTERS: Left unrecognized, such biases under-service and create barriers for both girls and boys. Girls are shamed for their victimization and taught to shoulder personal responsibility in circumstances of potential abuse and exploitation. Boys are not appropriately factored into risk considerations or included in subsequent attempts at safeguarding.

Parents perceive that their children would never engage with SG-CSAM or are too young.
Parents’ misconceptions about the ages at which children are sharing nudes – combined with a lack of confidence in speaking with their child about this topic or the tech they use – inhibit critical conversations between caregivers and their kids. 

  • QUICK STAT: Although the majority of parents think they should speak to children about SG-CSAM before they turn 13, only 1 in 5 parents of children aged 9-12 has done so.
  • WHY IT MATTERS: If there’s one takeaway that we keep coming back to as we continue learning directly from youth and caregivers, it’s this: Parents play a critical role in educating their children about specific online safety topics, and those conversations should start early. In fact, our previous research shows that children as young as 9 view sharing nudes as “normal.

Finally, not all kids have equal access to engaged or informed parents who can help safeguard them from the risks associated with SG-CSAM — and sadly, some parents hold extreme perspectives that could worsen outcomes for a child confronting a risky online experience. 

  • QUICK STAT: One in 5 parents is comfortable with their child being convicted of a crime or having to register as a sex offender if caught re-sharing nude images of another student. Further, over half (53%) of all parents would place the ultimate blame on the victim whose nudes were shared without consent.
  • WHY IT MATTERS: In order to keep kids safe online, parents and caregivers need the tools they need to have open, honest, and non-judgmental discussions with their kids about online risks and healthy online relationships. 

The report underscores the critical truth that safeguarding kids online requires strong networks of support, inclusive of caregivers, but not exclusive to them. Extended families, educators, medical professionals, law enforcement, policymakers, and tech companies all have a role in protecting young people online and supporting them if they encounter abuse.

THE TAKEAWAY: Talking early and often, in a specific way, to kids of all genders makes a big difference when it comes to keeping kids safe online.

That’s why Thorn launched Thorn for Parents, a digital resource hub designed to equip parents and caregivers and help them have earlier, more frequent, and judgment-free conversations with kids about digital safety. 

To learn more about the research findings, visit Thorn’s research page here.

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