Dear Annie,

I just found out that my 14-year-old daughter is sexting! She has sent racy pics through her cell phone and through the website that came with the phone service. That’s sexting! I nicely asked who she was sending pictures to and she got real confrontational and said it was no big deal. I pushed further and asked for her password to view the photos for myself. She of course got very upset, saying I’m invading her privacy.

She finally gave me the password, and I found two bra and panties pictures she has send to the boy she likes. My husband and I were in total disbelief. Just how concerned should we be and what steps should we take next?

Thanks so much,
Flabbergasted Mom

Dear Flabbergasted Mom,

Of course you’re upset! Her photos have a sexual intention behind them, whether she understands that or not. Clearly, she also may not fully understand a) how boys respond to things like this (maybe your husband can enlighten her); and b) digital photos can be so easily passed around. Does she want this photo to be sent to all of the boy’s friends and way beyond?

Yes, you “invaded her privacy,” but since you probably pay for her cell phone and website that goes with it, it seems to me that she needs some parental oversight. That means a serious conversation about your expectations for her cell phone and Internet behavior. Talk about what is and what is not appropriate behavior. Does she have an Instagram (or other social media) account? Ask her. If so, ask to see her profile pages. If she balks, that’s not a good sign.

Bottom line here, your daughter is 14 and she doesn’t understand that she is playing with fire. This isn’t a technology issue. It’s a parenting issue. Have a conversation with her about sexting, online safety, and what is and isn’t allowed. Tell her that you have been lapse in setting down guidelines for appropriate cell phone and Internet use. Apologize for not having told her any of this when she first got the phone and web access. You should have. But maybe it just never dawned on you that she’d do this. New day. New game plan.

The phone bill may allow you to monitor whether she’s sending pix and text messages, but what about the content? What do you want to do about that? If she continues to resist your oversight, is it because she feels she’s old enough to do what she wants with “her” phone? Past behavior is a good indicator of future behavior. Stick to your guns. If she is too immature to use technology in a way that reflects your family’s values, then take it away from her.

One more thing you need to discuss with your daughter is how, exactly, she can earn back the lost privileges.

I hope this helps.

In friendship,

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