My 13 year old girl sent a provocative picture of herself to a 15 yr old boy! 13 year old girl sent a provocative picture of herself to a 15 yr old boy! I don't know what to do!!! I feel like I am all over the place when I try to discipline her... and when I try to talk to her. What are appropriate consequences for this stuff?!?!

The email was quite a bit longer than this and contained much more information. I think you can understand my response without all the details, though:

A: First, let's examine the things that went right.

She TOLD you. Yes, you had her phone in hand and were going to find out anyway, but nonetheless, it speaks highly of your relationship and her trust in you that she did not just wait for you to find out when she wasn't there to face the music, and she also did not gamble that you wouldn't see it. This is a big deal, and worth celebrating. It demonstrates good character that she came clean. She did not have to say it to your face but she did. You can be proud of the fact that she trusted you with a very vulnerable situation.

What she did is very common in her age group these days. When I heard about some friends of my daughter doing this, we sat down and talked about where those pictures could end up, and the nature of forwarding and exposure and myspace and how today's friends or boyfriends are often tomorrow's enemies at this age. I asked exploratory questions, and did more listening than talking.

The girls simply had not thought about the unintended consequences of what seemed like a private act to them. They needed time and space and guidance and perspective so they could add this up a little better and make a healthier decision next time.

Teens are often impulsive and don't think very far ahead. That's perfectly developmentally appropriate. So as parents of teens, we want to be a resource that helps them ask and answer these kinds of questions: I wonder why he wanted it? Where could that end up? Who might see it? Can you think of any reason you might not want your body exposed to strangers or posted on the internet? What if your principal or teachers took his phone and saw that? Things like that - not from a shaming perspective, but from a 'let's think about this' perspective.

What's important to do now is to keep the lines of communication open. You want to position yourself as a resource for her, not a source of judgment, punishment, or shame, which will only drive her behavior underground.

Some folks might tell you to take away her phone, and that may be a good idea or it may not. Truth is, if she's bound and determined to send pics like that, she'll find another way. Just taking her phone away and removing the opportunity to screw up doesn't help her learn why this is action is so risky.

Instead, I'd say to sit down with her and find out what is going on for her NOW, after she sent it. Is she embarrassed? Is she worried about who might see it? Is she ashamed? Is it no big deal to her who sees her body?

When you can listen to her without making her bad or wrong for a choice she made, you become a place where she can safely bring her problems for discussion or brainstorming. THAT's where we as parents can make the most difference in the lives of our teens.

I wouldn't encourage you to use the "what are you missing at home that is making you have guys like this in your life" angle. Truth is, the teenage brain is just flaky when it comes to making consistently good decisions. Her line of thinking could have been just as simple as this seems fun. It doesn't have to betray some awful deficiency in her upbringing.

It would be powerful for her to hear you say, "You know honey, I remember making some decisions I regretted when I was a teenager, too. It happens sometimes -- we move fast and then after it's done we think Oh no, I can't take that back! Maybe it would help if we could slow some decisions down a little bit. You can always come to me and I will help you sort things out. Even if you don't want to talk to anyone about it, just waiting one day before taking action can give you a lot more clarity."

She needs to make some choices that don't turn out perfectly so she can learn from the results. We all do! So instead of telling her you will trust her to make good decisions, tell her you trust her to live and learn, and in the process, to access her own inner guidance.

In hindsight, she may identify a quiet voice inside her that warned her not to do it, or a feeling in her stomach that said Nuh, uh that she overrode. She may listen to those signals next time. Keep the lines of communication open, and you'll be part of that learning process.

You may even want to ask her what would help her in the future if she is invited to do this again. She may say, "You know, Mom, can you get me a phone with no camera so it will be easier for me to say no next time?" Or, "Can you take my phone away for a month so next time I can say, "No, my parents will take my phone away." These are responsible requests for your help withstanding peer pressure. Grant them.

Good luck. You and your daughter already have a lot going for your relationship, and I know you can use this incident to strengthen your bond.

Let me know if you want to schedule a parenting consultation (info at

I'd love to hear how it goes if you feel like sharing.

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