QUESTION: I am a young parent who had an unplanned pregnancy when I was 17 years old. My daughter is now 14. I always worked very hard because I felt that I had something to prove to make a success out of my life. Her dad and I separated almost four years ago. We get on okay now, but he is very soft and does not help with discipline at all.
My daughter was always difficult to get along with. The best year I had with her was when she went to a boarding school. She is argumentative, never accepting of boundaries and rules, and has a problem with maintaining relationships, always going from friend to friend. In fact, the child that I always did the best for has turned out to be a liar, with no respect for herself at all.
Last week, I confiscated her phone (which she is always glued to) and I was sickened to my very core. She has been sending explicit text and picture messages back and forth to two 17-year-old boys.
I have spoken to her about the content of the phone. I explained how these naked images of her will probably be shown to everyone and will always be around.
I have spoken to her about the lying. She said she wished she could go away and start her life all over again where no one knows her, but I don’t believe her regret, I really don’t. She does not care that we are so distraught over this, although her dad is kind of burying his head in the sand. We have taken her phone for four months and grounded her for one month, but I don’t know where to go or who to turn to.
ANSWER: What a shock it must have been to discover naked pictures of your daughter on her phone and to realise that she had been knowingly sending them to older boys. Understandably, you sound deeply upset by this.
It sounds like your daughter has always felt a little detached, struggling to keep friendships going and never feeling like she has really connected with those friends that she does make.
I also wonder how, or if, she feels respected by you and her dad? I am interpreting, from what you have described, that you and she clash regularly and that you find yourself having to be the disciplinarian, punishing her frequently.
I can only imagine that you have had to put many hours into all the hard work to make a success of your life. I would guess that an unfortunate and unintended outcome of this has been that you have been less available to your daughter, even if your intention was to do the best for her.
Often children need more than just what we provide for them by working.
I have no doubt that you and she love each other with that unbreakable bond that is usually there between children and parents. However, I do wonder if you like each other.
Consequently, she may not have a very high opinion of herself and may not feel particularly worth self-respect.
In those kinds of circumstances, I could imagine that she never thought twice about how little self-respect she shows in distributing naked pictures of herself.
You say that you don’t believe her stated regret, and you know her best so you are probably right.
But what if her regret is genuine? Can she not be allowed to make mistakes, even mistakes as significant as displaying her body in the ways you described?
I am sure your hope and expectation is that she won’t make this kind of mistake again. However, if you and her dad alienate yourselves from her further by heaping disappointment, shame and disgust on to her for her actions, then it is more likely that you will drive a deeper wedge between you and her.
The intensity of your distress may in fact be giving her a message that she is even less acceptable to you and may actually increase the likelihood that she will do something else stupid or something else that lacks self-respect.
I do strongly believe that despite your misgivings, you and her dad have to be the ones to reach out and to acknowledge that she made a mistake, and let her know that she can start again.
Yes, there is history that she can’t obliterate. Those pictures will potentially always be available online (if they have been uploaded) or shared from phone to phone. However, you can still forgive and forget, and allow her to move on.
Part of your difficulty may be that you might contrast your own strong sense of responsibility that you shouldered squarely at age 17 with her comparative irresponsibility.
I would guess that you feel annoyed that she just doesn’t seem to care and doesn’t seem to be willing to act responsibly.
You may find that talking with your own sisters, mother or family friends may give you a new perspective on what your daughter has done.
Those same women you talked to may also be able to provide a new voice to your daughter to back up the messages that you want her to get about becoming more responsible.
Berating your daughter for her irresponsibility won’t increase her responsibility though.
The best way to help her to be more responsible is to show her that you trust her (despite her betrayal of that trust in the past) and by helping her to see the impact and consequences of what she has done.
The more that you and her dad can show her that you love her, respect her and value her, the more likely she is to value and respect herself.
Then she may treat her body with more pride and respect. – Irish Independent