How to change teen sexting culture: "Don't ask for nude photos"

Photo courtesy: MGN

CBS NEWS New research about the intense pressure young women face to share nude photos of themselves is raising questions about how we address some of the norms that have taken hold among today's teenagers.

Researchers at Northwestern University analyzed nearly 500 stories on an anti-cyberbullying and sexting campaign's website and found that more than two-thirds of girls between ages 12 and 18 said they had been asked for explicit images. Researchers say the girls faced persistent requests, anger and threats from boys to send those pictures.

Psychologist and CBS News contributor Lisa Damour joined "CBS This Morning" to discuss the repercussions girls face when they refuse to send explicit photos and why we need to teach teens to stop asking for nude photos -- not to just stop sending them.

"They sometimes face harassment, they sometimes face threats, they're sometimes cut off from relationships, and this has been going on among teenagers for a while," Damour said. "It's something that teenagers and teenage girls have largely dealt with alone."

Damour says it's important that the issue is being brought to light by this research, and that it's crucial for teenagers to get the message, "Don't ask for nude photos."

"We have not made a practice of saying 'Don't ask for nude photos.' And so one of the important things we need to do at this point is we need to recalibrate that norm and set rules around this," she said.

In explaining this to teens, Damour recommends that parents point out what kind of position the sexting request puts both receiver and sender in.

"It puts you in an awkward position, personally, socially -- maybe legally," she said. "Then we need to say don't ask for nude photos – it puts somebody else in a terrible position to do so."

She also highlighted how the emphasis is often placed on girls to regulate their behavior instead of boys.

"One of the things I had to come to terms with is that when I've talked with teenagers -- and when a lot of us talk with teenagers -- usually the subtext is: all right ladies, we're gonna ask you to regulate adolescent sexuality because we're not gonna ask the boys," Damour said. "I think it's something we need to change when we talk about teenagers and to teenagers in general, which is that we're going to ask them to be fair and equitable, both boys and girls, in terms of how they handle themselves in these relationships."

While the research started with 12-year-olds, Damour recommends beginning a conversation with your kids when they get their first cellphones.

"I think a great rule is don't do anything with this phone you wouldn't want your grandmother to see. So that's a good generic way to start it. But then I think it's time to start moving that conversation up, as kids move into 6th, 7th, 8th grade – where we really hear about this happening," she said.

Asked about the common refrain that sexting is simply a "new norm" of the digital age, Damour said "norms are created in part by rules."

"So if we have no rules saying don't ask for pictures, we're not creating the norms we want to create. So I think we need to actually take that extra step and make a rule for all teenagers -- girls and boys. Don't ask for these pictures," she said. "I think it's one that they've been dealing with largely without adult support and we owe them support for how they're going to conduct their relationships now because that lays the ground work for how they're going to conduct their relationships as adults."