Help Desk

Human advice for a post-human world

:( Help! My teenager accidentally texted me a very private photo meant for his girlfriend. Not what I wanted to see when I thought he was in his room doing homework!

Now we both obviously want to die. But I'm worried about him. How do I communicate to him the risks of, er, exposing himself online without totally embarrassing the guy? I don't think he understands how this sort of behavior could come back to haunt him later in life.

– Deliberately Ignoring Crazy Kid's Photo in Clarksville

You've come to the right place, D. Here at Help Desk, we recognize that, as a society, our manners, ethics, and social conventions have not kept pace with our technological advancements. It's time for a full systems upgrade.

For instance: Times are changing, and sexting is more and more becoming accepted behavior. There are some horror stories, as with any new extension of technology or sex or really anything involving teenagers, but in the end it's just another form of youthful hijinx – mostly harmless, except when it's not.

Whatever you do, D, don't be hard on the kid – it's hard enough for him already. That came out wrong. Really, though, this may not be as big a deal as you think it is. The age-old parental tactic of just pretending it never happened could work wonders here.

Sure, Anthony Weiner's Twitter bulge destroyed his political career. But Bill Clinton had to lie about inhaling pot when he ran for president in 1992, and now we have Peter Tosh's former No. 1 fan in the White House. Don't be that parent that freaks out because your kid smells like a doobie. We predict that, within 20 or 30 years, we'll hit the milestone of the first presidential dick pic, and the world will shrug. Hey, maybe it'll even be your son.

All this said, if you can handle the awkwardness, a talk may be warranted. Not about the perils of his behavior, but about "safe sexting."

The most important tenet to impart to your son is that it's never, never okay to share sexts he receives with anyone. It's also, in many cases, against the law. A Houston-area woman recently won half a million dollars in a "revenge porn" lawsuit. Such cases are getting more and more common. The good news is (fingers crossed) that these sorts of precedents will soon make it easier to get personal photos taken down if and when they do hit the Internet.

You can also delicately suggest your son use Snapchat, an app he's no doubt heard of, which automatically deletes sent photos in a matter of seconds. As a bonus, so long as you don't download the app, too, it'll be much harder for him to accidentally send an errant photo to you again. The idea of an app that makes things instantaneously disappear will appeal to him if you do sit him down for a talk – he'll probably wish he could disappear himself. :) HD

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