Q: Dear Janell,
We discovered a very provocative (but not sexually explicit) photo our 14 year old daughter sent. She denies sending it. After spending several hours yesterday trying to understand why she did this and how this could happen, she erased her entire online history without us knowing. We are scared of this new behavior and could use some support.
Thank you very much for reaching out. I am happy to provide as much support as I can based on your email. I’m sorry you are having a challenging time navigating the ups & downs of digital parenting and parenting in general. You are not alone. Here are a few immediate thoughts:
Keep in mind that as stressful as this is for you, this must be very stressful for her too. You’ve found a picture you don’t love. She may or may not have sent it to someone. She is likely some combination of scared, uncertain, regretful, embarrassed. This is a key time for you to go towards her. Strengthen the bond that reassures her - even if she did send something you have decided is inappropriate (even if she wasn’t forthcoming), you still love her. You are in it together. You can handle it, even if you don’t like it. Say those words. Let her know.
If you are scared and confused it’s ok to, let her know. Make the space a trusted one so she can tell you as much as she knows about the “why” of it all. She may not know why. She may or may not think it’s a big deal except now she has to manage parental involvement. It sounds like you would like more dialogue & understanding, so her honesty & your ability to hold space for that honesty is key.
If the situation feels unsafe, if there is evidence of something dangerous and not just experimental or pushing boundaries or if this is a chronic at risk behavior or she is being coerced to take and send pics or you just don’t feel right, use your community of professional support (law, pediatrician, therapist, educators) to get the help you need.
Most of all, if you feel this is a typical - however new - behavior, it is a critical time to lay the foundation for all behaviors to come. You can hold your family’s values and beliefs in tension with growing and building trust. This is time for learning, communicating and moving forward together.
I am thinking of you & your family.