I caught my 14-year-old daughter sexting nude photos of herself to her boyfriend. There were salacious text messages, too. I am shocked. I never thought I had to worry about her because she seemed to have her priorities straight. When I confronted her, she was frighteningly nonchalant. I can’t seem to get through to her that behavior like this can be made public at any time and completely ruin her reputation and life. What suggestions do you have to get through to my daughter?
Adolescents are itching to be accepted as adults, but their developing brains often lag behind the ability to envision consequences. Teens are especially quick to dismiss old-school advice. So don’t tell your daughter that you know she will ruin her reputation; she is aware that you’re not a seer. Plus, in her peer group, sexting is likely promoted as a means of enhancing popularity. Rely instead on your connection with her. Do say you care and are worried. Admit that you neglected to teach her good decision-making skills.
Tell her that you wish you had talked with her about dating, sexual activity and relationships. All the while, acknowledge to yourself that this behavior is not new. In the 1950s and 1960s, adults snapped naked pics using Polaroid instant cameras. In the two decades that followed, people made homemade sex tapes. Technology and exhibitionism advance hand in hand. But sexting and its popular variants filter through our porn culture and are trending with teens. That’s dangerous. Many junior-high and high-school students consider sexting essential to courtship. They confuse sexual attraction and sexual attention with love and commitment.
Your belief in your daughter’s perfection probably kept her from confessing that she had crossed the line. She can’t confide in you without changing your perception of her. If you allow her to be human, she can admit her faults, secrets and fears to you and to other trusted adults. No matter how balanced you imagine a teen might be, she or he is not a mature adult.
Remind your daughter that nothing disappears from the Internet. Photos that appear for an instant before disappearing can easily be saved and shared. Explain that her 15 minutes of privacy are over. Then, talk about the job market. There’s a space on some job applications for potential employees to write their social-media handles and passwords. It’s an employer’s way of determining the true personality of applicants. It’s also a hedge against hiring people who are likely to bad-mouth or embarrass the company. Applicants who are unwilling to provide the requested information are often ineligible for employment. This is a trend likely to become the norm by the time your daughter hits the job market.
You can also point out that sexting is akin to submitting a nude photo and phone number for inclusion on the front page of your community newspaper. If she shrugs that off, play hardball. Replace her smartphone, temporarily, with a basic pay-as-you-go model. Collect her phone at night, keep it in your bedroom, and return it to her before she leaves for school. Do random phone checks. Shut down all of her social-media sites. Allow her to see her boyfriend, if you wish, but only in the company of you or his parents. And get his parents on board so you have a united front. Let her know in advance how long these rules will be enforced (for example, 30 days) and stick to that commitment before reinstating privileges. Don’t be afraid of your daughter, and don’t try to be her friend. Become what she really needs: a conscious, involved parent capable of chaperoning her through life.