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What to do if my teen is “sexting”

Sexting among teens is false intimacy Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at

Sexting among teens is false intimacy

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at




Sexting is happening much more often than you think.  I have been completely SHOCKED as a therapist for teens at how frequently teens are texting sexy messages to one another.  A lot of the girls I work with who are not sexually active still sometimes engage in sexting.  The phone does make people more comfortable, and text messages make it even easier to say things that would never, ever be said in person.


Most of the time it is a boy asking a girl for a picture of something.  However, it is rare that a boy comes right out and asks.  Usually the conversation leads into the request for a picture.  It starts out friendly enough.  Next the conversation becomes flirtatious.  Often it might include a compliment like, “You looked really pretty in that dress you wore today.”  The girl says thank you, so the boy tries to be a little bit bolder.  He might text, “Actually, you looked hot.”  Slowly it progresses until the boy asks for a picture.  Sometimes the girl says yes, and sometimes the girl says no.  Rarely is the boy shamed for asking.


One situation I dealt with a little over 2 years ago happened with a 13 year old girl.  She was called into the principle’s office.  She was surprised to find a police officer sitting there.  He asked her if a picture was of her.  She reluctantly admitted it was.  She was suspended, but the boy whose phone it was on was arrested.  He faced charges of child pornography distribution.  Apparently after he became angry at the girl, he sent the picture to several other people in order to embarrass her.


Sometimes the sexting conversations do not include pictures.  However, they can include questions about what a boy or girl might do with the other one.  Teenagers don’t realize these conversations are in writing!  If one party says they are deleting it, but instead forwards it to a friend, it often replicates over and over again.


There are emotional reasons sexting is bad behavior for a teenager too.  It creates a false sense of intimacy.  There is no personal contact, very little emotional connection, and a boldness that surpasses face to face conversation.  It moves the relationship along at a much faster pace.


Often, one of the adolescents in the sexting conversation is very uncomfortable.  However, in order to keep the other happy, or not look like a “prude,” they continue.  In fact, every single girl I’ve counseled who ended up sending a nude photo initially said no.  Often the girl said no several times.  With repeated asking the girl gave in.  A couple of different times the girl unwittingly sent the image to a guy who had friends over.  Can you imagine walking back into school after that?


What can parents do?  You have to monitor what your teenager is texting/posting.  You have to educate them on how to resist texting pressure just as you do with face to face pressure.  Teach your teen to be guarded with his or her emotions.  Explain repeatedly that whatever is put in print has the potential to exist forever.  Most importantly, maintain an open door policy.


What is an open door policy regarding texting?  When I was a teenager my parents allowed me to have boys at my house.  However, whatever room we were in, the door had to be wide open.  If I was on the phone with a boy the door also had to be wide open.  Granted that was in a time when teenagers were carrying around pagers, so texting wasn’t an issue.  The open door policy meant my parents could walk by at any time and look in, or hear my side of the phone conversation.  Honestly, that policy was very annoying at the time.  Now, looking back, I realize it kept me out of a lot of trouble.


An open door policy with the cell phone means that you as a parent reserve the right to grab your teen’s phone at any point, and you actually follow through with this.  It means that if they complain that this is a violation of their privacy then they can just not have a phone for a time.  It means that you are allowed to be their friend on SnapChat, Instagram, etc. and that you routinely check on their profiles.  It also means that you allow your teen more and more privacy as they earn it.


A lot of parents automatically give their teenager privacy, and then they have to take it away if their teen is acting up.  The teenager perceives this as mean and unfair.  However, if privacy is a privilege and not a right, there is very little argument.


You do these things because you don’t want to be the parent whose son is arrested at school for the distribution of child pornography.  You do them because you don’t want to be the parent whose daughter half the school has seen naked.  You do them because you want to be the parent who teaches your child to become a self-respecting adult.  You do these things because you are a smart parent who knows that setting limits isn’t mean, but is loving your child well.


Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Helping Your Teen’s Confidence

Love your teens with grace, affection and rules. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Love your teens by letting them figure some things out on their own.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Instilling confidence in your teenager is a challenging proposition.  One of the primary places they develop confidence is through their relationship with their parents.  When a parent does too much for the teen, it hurts their ability to believe in their own capability.  Here’s an example of what I mean:


I have worked with several families where this has occurred:  Mom or dad loves their son or daughter so deeply that they cannot stand to see the child get hurt.  So, they help them with everything.  They help them study for tests at school, help them in their sport by providing private lessons, give them a car when they turn 16, give them money to buy whatever clothes make up the latest trend, etc.  While this is very kind, it actually hurts the teenager in the long-run.


Here’s what I see happen in my office all the time.  I see a teenager who is very frustrated with a parent, or both parents.  When we start to look into the reason why, the teen will tell me it’s because they aren’t allowed to do anything for themselves.  They see their parents’ help as condescending and displaying a lack of confidence in them.  One girl told me when her mom asked her if she studied for her math test, the girl took it to mean mom doesn’t trust her to get it done.  When we talked to mom about it she said it was not because of a lack of trust, but instead caring about her daughter feeling upset if she forgets to study and then doesn’t do well.  I told the mom to let her child figure these things out by herself because it shows that mom is confident in her daughter’s ability to organize her schoolwork.  On the contrary, if mom reminds her daughter to do everything, it displays a lack of confidence in her daughter’s ability.


Parents, if you’re not giving your adolescent the room to be responsible commensurate with their age, you’re accidentally sending a message to your teenager that you don’t believe in him or her.  This is almost certainly not what you’re intending.  Most likely you’re intending to make things easier on your teenager and trying to help him or her avoid painful consequences.  If you know your teen isn’t great at leaving herself enough time to write essays for English class, so you require her to sit down and work at it a little bit each day, you might be doing her a disservice (This depends on how old she is of course).  It could be a lot better for her to start the essay at the last minute, and then feel the pain of getting a low grade.  She will likely decide a better course of action next time.  You can always offer to help her make a better plan next time.  If you do though, leave it up to her to approach you for help once you’ve put it out there that you’re willing.  You can tell her you know she desires to do better, and you believe in her that she will figure out how to make this happen; after that, leave it alone.


So, if you’d like to help your teenager know you believe in him or her, and to become more confident in his or her abilities, give them room to do things themselves.  Don’t be afraid of their failures.  A small metaphorical scrape of the knees today can save a broken leg in the future.


Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Importance of Fathers

Dads are tremendously important. Image courtesy of photostock /

I listened to a talk by Dr. Warren Farrell on boys growing up in our current society. He was insightful and interesting. He has done extensive research and study on the topic of fatherhood. He also commented on what he calls the “boy crisis.” If you would like to view that talk you can access it at

One of the most interesting nuggets of information he shared was that children raised in a mother-only household have ADHD approximately 30% of the time, while children raised in a father-only household have ADHD approximately 15% of the time. He also shared myriad of other facts discussing the importance of fathers in a child’s life. Much of what he said was corroborated by a very important book from pediatrician Dr. Meg Meeker called Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters (a recommended read for dads with girls).

The reason I share this with you today is in my practice over the past 10 years I have noticed teens with highly involved fathers have an easier time recovering from whatever sent them to therapy. Dads have an irreplaceable role in a child’s life. They teach grit and toughness, patience, determination, and delayed gratification better than moms can. Moms have other extremely important roles, so don’t think I mean moms aren’t valuable, but that’s a discussion for another day. My main point is, your child needs his or her dad.

If you are from a divorced family this can be more difficult. A lot of the time mom has been deeply hurt through the process of divorce and can harbor extremely difficult feelings towards dad. It is beyond challenging to set those feelings aside and encourage your child to spend time with his or her father, particularly if you as mom have zero respect for him. With the exception of truly abusive dads, you still have to try hard because your kids will be better off even if you despise him.

Dads, you need to make an effort to spend time with your kids. They learn through osmosis more than through lecture. They need to be around you. You need to be careful to be a man of integrity, kindness and firmness. They don’t need you to coddle them. Even if your wife says you are too hard on them, research shows children benefit from the black and white way dads enforce rules. Be steadfast, consistent and present.

Some of you are in a situation where having a dad around isn’t an option. In that case get a grandfather involved or an uncle. Also, mom, in that case you must double down on teaching fortitude to your children. You have to be aware that pushing them through hard things is what a father usually does, and now you have to play that role. You are tasked with walking the impossible juxtaposition of firmness and softness.

Make today a new day. Be intentional with your children having a lot of exposure to their fathers. Dads, don’t believe everything you hear about masculinity being toxic; research shows your children need you.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Raising Teens in a Liberal Culture

Times they are a changin’. Some of these changes don’t bother you as a parent. Other changes make you uncomfortable. You wish you could raise your kids in another era. While I’m sure this is true of all generations, technology and social/moral changes are so rapid now that I hear a lot of nervousness from parents. Here is some advice on this topic:

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Discipline By Leading

Occasionally you need to come down hard on your child for a transgression, but if you are doing this daily then you are an ineffective disciplinarian. Sure you might be getting compliance. People will comply out of fear. Given the first opportunity though, they will be passive aggressive as a means of expressing their resentment towards your tyranny. Teens are no exception to this rule. Sometimes they even become just plain aggressive.

If you want to impact their character so that your teenager can make independently moral and upright decisions, then you must discipline by leading. Even better is when you are lead and can then in turn lead your children. When you follow the edicts of your faith (in my household this means the instructions for life given in the Bible), you have a guide that makes it easier to parent. You have something telling you in no uncertain terms what is right and what is wrong. You are told your purpose, how to love, and how to conduct edifying family life. It makes it much easier to take your teenager’s hand and lead him through ups and downs rather than constantly nagging and exasperating him. So, lead well and watch your child shine.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT