Q: I found out that my 15-year-old daughter has a profile on a social network site where she has pornographic conversations with boys. I am beside myself and don't quite know how to react or approach this. She has been acting differently and disrespectful recently and is extremely boy crazy! I am not sure if this is normal teenage behavior or if I need to get her into therapy. We live in a small community, but even here we know of instances where kids have been victims of Internet stalking and abduction. And last year, a classmate of my son’s was abducted, brutally raped, and murdered. I just can't understand why my daughter is getting involved with this kind of behavior. I have blocked access to our computers and wireless devices, but I don't want to totally block her phone access. I am just so upset, angry, and scared—how can I get through to her without driving her further into secrecy?
–Scared for my daughter, in Upstate New York
A: Dear Scared,
You’re right to be concerned about your daughter’s online behavior. Although it is normal for her to be ‘boy-crazy’, there is a difference between liking boys and making oneself vulnerable to exploitation and objectification. Your instinct to communicate with her about it rather than simply prohibiting all media use is a good one.
Starting with your concerns about the behavior itself may lead to a direct conflict over issues that don’t get at the real problem (like your daughter saying that you
“just don’t get the online world”). Focus on the real issue by considering what is driving her bahavior. Your daughter may be attempting to make sense of the abduction, rape, and murder that happened in your community by trying to regain control over her environment. You may want to discuss both the concerning behaviors and underlying influences on the behaviors with a pediatrician, or therapist. Your daughter may need professional assistance work through whatever is going on, especially if she won’t open up to you easily. For all of her bravado and disrespect, your daughter may actually be as frightened as you are–what you need to find are the feelings you share, and then use them to build an alliance.
When she describes her feelings and coping strategies to you, try to listen without judging. If you can hear her views and explanations in a respectful way, no matter how outrageous they may seem, she will respond positively, open up more, and allow you to be on her side. Hopefully, your daughter will have the drive to take control of her life as a young woman–and the insight to come to her own conclusion that she needs to curb provocative and unsafe online behaviors.
If she is not developmentally ready to do this, then let her know, gently and with respect, that you do get the online world and that these behaviors are as dangerous as texting while driving or not putting on her seatbelt. Explain that, just as you would take away the car keys if she were to use poor judgment while driving, you will need to restrict her online access while she learns to care for herself and others in that environment. Explain that you know she can care for herself, and then set clear guidelines about what she needs to do to show you that she's ready to be a good–and much less restricted–digital citizen.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,