JOPLIN, Mo. —
The Facebook chat started out innocently enough.
First, he wanted to know if they knew one another from school, and if they were friends. Then he set up the ask.
"You can't tell anyone about this, and if you do, there will be consequences," he wrote. She asked what was wrong.
"Can u send me a pic of your boobs and ****?"
Followed by: "Wanna see a pic of my ****?
The 14-year-old recipient of the requests said no.
"Please," he wrote. "Pretty please."
She kept saying no.
"I'll do anything to get the pics of you naked."
She eventually pointed out that he was going out with another girl, which he acknowledged. The chat ended abruptly after that.
Bonny Ghosh, 34, the mother of the New York teen girl, discovered the conversation during a routine check of her daughter's social media and cellphone accounts. Ghosh had always made it clear to her daughter that she would periodically check in on her tech, and requests like this one have gotten surprisingly more common.
What used to be an uncomfortable conversation between parents and their children about real-life sexual activity must now include topics like digital propositions, sexting and pornography.
In fact, a child's earliest sexual encounters and exploration could very well occur online.
Ghosh first found an inappropriate request from a classmate when her daughter was in sixth grade. Since then, there have been a few instances where male users of Kik, a free texting app, have sent her daughter pictures of naked male anatomy, seeking reciprocity. Her daughter has not been enticed by any of the offers.
"There is so much emphasis that daughters should protect themselves, that they should never send a naked picture of themselves, and my daughter is savvy enough to know better," said Ghosh. But, she added, "I am wondering: Are other parents having the same conversation with their sons?" For instance, did the boy who sent her daughter the explicit request realize that she would save the messages? (In cases where she knows the student involved, Ghosh calls his parents to let them know.)
A recent viral blog post by a mother of four sparked discussion on this very issue. Kim Hall of Austin, Texas posted an open letter to her sons' female Facebook friends, warning them they will be blocked from the Hall family's sites if they post sultry selfies. Hall, who has three sons, titled the post "FYI (If You're a Teenage Girl)" and it has now been viewed more than 5 million times. Among others, it raised the question of whether parents hold their sons and daughters to the same standards when it comes to their behavior online.
For Ghosh, the messages indicated to her that it was time to have a no-holds-barred talk with her daughter about the new age of sexual activity.
She took a few weeks to think about what she wanted to say. She didn't want her daughter to feel judged or ashamed for being curious, which is normal during the teenage years. But she wanted her to understand the consequences that come with any sort of sexual activity, whether in real life or via a phone or computer.
"My fear is less about her getting pregnant. What I worry more about is her emotional well-being," she said. She brought up examples from the news and from within her daughter's social circle in which girls' reputations have been maligned by online images and rumors. They talked about the motivation behind such requests and how this kind of behavior has nothing to do with affection or love.
The boy who asked her daughter for naked pictures on Facebook turned out to provide a textbook example of the lesson Ghosh wanted to impart.
Five minutes after her daughter shot down his request, he made the exact same plea in a message to her best friend.
Aisha Sultan is a St. Louis-based journalist who studies parenting in the digital age while trying to keep up with her tech-savvy children. Find her on Twitter: @AishaS.