By Jason DeRusha

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — She was 12 years old, and like most 12-year-olds, she had a crush in her same grade.

“I thought we loved each other. He just used me for what he wanted,” said Michaela Snyder, a Woodbury teenager, now a freshman in high school.

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In some ways, Michaela’s story is not much different than any of ours in seventh grade — being in love, and eager to please.

“I didn’t want to lose him,” Michaela said. “I just wanted to make him happy, I thought that’s what I was supposed to do.”

But one thing is different about Michaela’s story, and the experience of all junior high students: the cell phone.

According to research from Pew Internet Research, in 2012, 68 percent of seventh-graders had a cell phone of their own.

The 12-year-old boy Michaela was “going out with” got more aggressive just one month after they started hanging out together.

“He wanted pictures from me. He wanted to see my body,” she said. “He just texted one day and said, ‘You should do it.’ I said no. He said, ‘If you love me, you’ll do it, if not, I’ll leave you,'” Michaela said.

Her parents, Grant and Melanie Snyder, said they thought their daughter would be ready for this moment.

“We thought we had had enough conversation with our kids that they knew better,” Melanie Snyder said.

“It wasn’t enough,” Grant Snyder said.

Their daughter said she talked to her group of friends, all seventh-graders, all 12-year-old girls.

“They said, ‘It’s normal, we do it,'” Michaela said.

According to Michaela, her friends all reported being pressured to send sexually explicit pictures to boys in the same grade. Good kids, bad kids, all kids.

And so Michaela took a picture of herself in her underwear, and tapped send.

She said she knew it was a bad idea.

“I didn’t care,” she said. “I thought if he’s gonna love me and stay with me, I don’t care.”

But it didn’t stop there.

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“He then started asking for more, more naked pictures,” Michaela said. “I never sent those. I was never going to send that.”

Like many parents, the Snyders say they spot check their teenagers’ phones. Melanie found the texts and the explicit picture of her daughter.

“Shock. Disbelief. At the time, anger,” the Melanie said.

Young people being exploited through explicit pictures is not a new concept to Michaela. Her father is a Minneapolis Police sergeant, who investigates juvenile sex crimes.

“That’s the surprising part, even in hindsight. How powerful that magnet of social media and peer pressure was for Michaela,” Grant Snyder said. “If that can happen to a cop’s kid, that can happen to anybody.”

Michaela’s parents went to the boy’s parents, but Michaela said she was the one paying the price.

“I was tripped in the hallways, people were talking about me online,” she said.

People even told her to kill herself.

“For a long time I blamed myself,” Michaela said. “It took me two years to forgive myself. It’s funny, I forgave him before I forgave myself.”

And she’s sharing her story, first to Pioneer Press columnist Ruben Rosario, as a warning to parents and to kids her age.

“I want girls to realize we are worth more than our bodies,” she said. “I want parents to not be naive and think, ‘My kid is too good, they’re not going to do that.'”

Her parents say children are facing challenges today that their generation never faced. They also feel that Michaela’s choice to share her story is incredibly brave.

“We need voices of kids saying this is what happened to me, and this is how it affected me and be careful,” Grant Snyder said.

Parents who think they don’t need to worry about these things until their kids are older, need to think again, according to Michaela.

“At age of 10 or 11, you need to talk to your boys about this is how you respect a girl,” she said.

Michaela said she’s lost friends by coming forward. But she’s gained something bigger: self-respect, and a chance to make a change.

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“I think my stupid choices can help a lot of other people,” she said.

Jason DeRusha