When I picked my fifteen-year-old daughter up from her summer driver’s ed class earlier this week I was expecting to hear the usual tales of driving on the range or funny stories the teacher tells.  Instead, Mack was visibly upset.  “Mom, I am sick to my stomach.”  She started pushing buttons on her phone.  “I always keep my phone off during class and then check my messages when class is over.  Look what I got today.”

Mack shoved her phone in my face.  I read:  GET NAKED.  TAKE A PICTURE OF YOURSELF.  SEND IT TO ME.

“Who sent you that?”

Mack began to cry.  “It’s this kid, Z.”

“He goes to your school?”

Mack nodded.  “I’ve only talked to him a few times.  Mom, I’ve never hung out with this kid.  I just started talking to him towards the end of the school year.  I was just being nice.”

I asked, “He’s never been to any of the parties you go to?”

“No.”  Mack’s tears were flowing freely now.  “Mom, he sent the message four times.”

Four?”  I slowed the car down.  “Did you save them?”

“Yes, look.”  Mack began scrolling her messages on her phone for me to see.  Sure enough there were four messages, the first three about 10 minutes apart, the last about an hour later, all asking the same thing.

“Okay, don’t delete them.  I’m going to take care of this.”  I wanted to skin the kid alive. 

As soon as we got home I went directly to Hub in his home office and told him what had happened.  Mack came in and Hub asked for Z’s phone number.  Mack read it off her phone aloud and stayed in the room as Hub dialed the phone.

“Hello.  Is this Z?”  Hub’s voice was angry.  “This is Mack’s stepfather.  We are not happy about the messages you’ve been sending to Mack’s phone and we want it to stop immediately.  We will be reporting you to the police.”

Hub hung up the phone and I asked, “What did he say?”

“He said it will stop immediately.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

Hub had said we were going to report the incident to the police.  Was that the right thing to do?  I didn’t even know if a minor requesting a nude picture from another minor is illegal.  I decided to call our neighbor who happens to be a detective on our city’s police department and ask him what he thought we should do.  He was very supportive and sympathetic.  He told me that if we wanted to we could have the police file a report and Z’s parents would be contacted.  He also told me we could just contact the parents ourselves and keep it between the two families.  It would be up to us.  My neighbor told me he would help us in whatever we decided to do.  He did feel that the parents should be notified no matter what, just in case Z had sent the same message to other girls.

Mack told me that the other kids at school had always said Z was a good kid.  She couldn’t understand why he would request such a thing.  Before taking action, I decided Mack’s father needed to know so we could decide together what we wanted to do.  Mack called her dad and handed the phone to me.  I told him what had happened and what our neighbor had said.  We discussed it and decided not to go to the police unless the kid sent another inappropriate message.  We were going to give Z the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was a good kid who’d done something he thought would be funny not realizing the impact it would have.

My ex husband did some searching, made some phone calls, and managed to find the home telephone number of Z’s family.  He called and left a message stating that he wanted to talk to Z’s parents about something inappropriate Z had done.  Z’s father called my ex husband the next day.

It turns out that Z is autistic.  As soon as his father heard the voice message he questioned Z and Z freely told him what he’d done.  Z has only been texting for about one month.  His friends had shown him how to do it.  Most likely Z didn’t understand fully what his messages to Mack meant, or how they would make her feel.  There have been news reports recently about teenage kids in the county north of us being prosecuted for sending nude pictures of themselves to each other.  Z’s family speculates that he may have seen those reports and gotten the idea to text his message from them.  His family is not using Z’s autism as an excuse and they have explained to him that what he did was wrong.

Today Mack and her father drove to Z’s home so that Z could apologize to Mack in person–something he wanted to do.  Z’s mother thanked Mack for being so kind to Z and said that they had looked Mack’s picture up in the yearbook since they didn’t know who she was.  They discovered that she’d written a sweet message to Z near her picture.  Z’s mom told Mack that she’d done the right thing in showing me the messages because they most likely would have never known Z was sending those types of messages otherwise.  She thanked her again for doing the right thing and for being so kind to Z.

“Unreasonable haste is the direct road to error.”  –Moliere

How grateful I am that we didn’t act in haste and get the police involved.  It would have been a mistake and unnecessary embarrassment would have been the result.  Z now understands that certain messages are inappropriate, Mack is relieved to know that there was no malicious intent, and I have had a reminder to not act in haste. 

I hope the reminder stays with me.