I completely understand what it's like to be an insecure teen, having a mad crush on a gorgeous, unattainable guy (or girl, whatever). Suddenly, after weeks or months of yearning, that person looks at you, or, in the world of the Internet, likes your Instagram photo, likes your Tweet. Inside, your heart flutters, and you think "they finally noticed me!" It's elating. Even as an adult I get that way sometimes, everyone gets a little star-struck. But when you're a teenager, it can be problematic when your obsession is a legal adult and you are not.
So where does it go from there? Adults on the Internet have a certain responsibility to interact with people appropriately. When someone is clearly under age (especially if their profile says their age) it is incredibly inappropriate to leave comments of a sexual nature. Bottom line. I don't care how much older a person looks than their age, they're still a kid and unable to provide consent. I liked L's response to how he handles responding to his fans online:
"You'll notice I only ever respond to people on IG [ed: that's Instagram] with a none (sic) romantic reply. I never leave hearts or sex stuff.. ever. I want the fans that interact with me to know that you don't have to be sexual to get the attention of people that matter to you."Emphasis on that last line is mine. It may seem hypocritical, coming from someone outwardly sexual like myself, but that statement is so, so important. I get the lack of confidence, I get the elation at being noticed, I get it, but by putting yourself out there sexually, as a minor, you're not only attracting negative attention, but the wrong people. Because there are, sadly, people out there that will exploit the vulnerabilities of insecure teens and that leads to a downward spiral of potential sexual abuse. No. It is sexual abuse. Teens can't consent, and if you exploit them when they're vulnerable, knowing that you're attractive enough to get what you want from an emotionally fragile, naive teenager, you're a sexual predator of the worst kind, and I don't have any more time for you.
So what the hell do we do? Well, let's get rid of this bullshit patriarchal idea that girls are only worth how their bodies appear, and that they must always present themselves as desirable to get attention. I was that ugly, fat girl, and as an adult, well, I look pretty on Instagram but I'm pounding away at my keyboard right now with a horrible pimply mess on my face and hair that's gone too many days without washing. Men still find me desirable, even when they see me gross as fuck. It's because I'm intelligent, confident, and assertive. Confidence and assertiveness I had to learn, they didn't come over night. I figured this out on my own, but that was really pre-Internet and social media, so it was a different time.
The question is, how do we help girls now find their confidence, to attract the right people into their lives? A lot of it is education and parental involvement. We hear sensationalist news reports about online predators, but are we having actual two-way dialogues with kids about how they present themselves online? Actual, true conversations that don't involve shaming? A true predator can easily identify and exploit a vulnerability. There are a lot of resources online, and a few links I found interesting to start with:
How To Have "The Talk" With Your Kids (About Internet Safety, That Is)
Raising Confident Daughters in a Changing World
Talking to Kids and Teens about Social Media and Sexting
A Girl's Nude Photo, and Altered Lives
I don't pretend to have answers on this. It's a tricky, complicated subject that needs to be approached with sensitivity, and honestly, the best way is to start a dialogue with each other and also step back and look at our own interactions online. I welcome any conversation or additional resources.