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Risky Online Behavior


​​​I have a fourteen-year-old daughter who is participating in risky behavior online. This is the fourth time in the last year that this has been a problem. She has been in therapy ever since and now meets with her therapist once a week. I'm told the issue is father abandonment and not loving herself. As a parent, how do I help my child? I am very afraid of what her future may hold if she does not get the help she needs but I am not sure what will help.​



Thank you so much for contacting us. It's good that your daughter is working with a therapist. You did not say what type of risky behavior she has done online, whether it involves behaviors like trying to feel better by using your credit card to gain material items, making negative public statements, or posting public pictures to get attention. Or if it involves inappropriate sexual behavior like communicating with older men she does not know, viewing pornography, sharing inappropriate photos or receiving them, or sexual conversations with kids her age that she does know. All of these are risky behaviors that can cause problems.  

Changing her behavior may take some time because the rewards your daughter has been getting (e.g., attention and compliments from guys, a photo in return, a promise to buy or give her something, a boyfriend proposal, etc.) may outweigh the risks (e.g., getting caught and grounded, having technology removed, getting a bad reputation, getting in legal trouble, etc.). So be patient and stick with it.  

She may truly be experiencing feelings of abandonment, but the goal would be that she fills that void by learning to grow other healthy relationships with other family members, friends, and even a romantic partner at some point. We do not know what the therapist's treatment plan is for your daughter and certainly would never want to interrupt that. We recognize that technology is a part of all of our lives these days and that your daughter needs to learn to use it in a safe and appropriate manner. However, if she is addicted to it, like any addiction, the technology may simply have to be removed for now.

We also do not know if she has been in any legal trouble due to her risky behavior. At some point, you may need legal direction since transmitting or receiving sexual photographs or videos of a person or other minors via electronic communication can result in embarrassing images, predators blackmailing people for additional images, hefty fines, or charges that can affect your daughter's future. Remember, once an image is out there, you have no control over who receives the material or where it gets posted. There is always someone out there who can find it even if an attempt has been made to block or erase it.

If your child is engaging in this kind of risky activity:

  • Remove all technology it is being communicated on
  • Do not forward any photos for the purpose of bringing it to another parent's attention
  • Consider police contact if you believe an adult perpetrator is involved
  • Talk about preserving the virtue of her body

It is important to help your child understand the moral, legal, and emotional ramifications that come along with sexting inappropriate videos or photos of herself to others. There are some very good books you can find at that talk about setting good boundaries. Some are specifically written for teenagers, such as “Boundaries: A Guide for Teens." Maybe reading this book could even be a requirement for your daughter as one of your teaching components. We have had parents report that they have read it with their teen chapter by chapter each night to get the message across. It really is a good book, and even though she may dismiss it, she probably will enjoy a lot of it.

Remind your daughter that trust will have to be built up again. Her actions and good behavior together over time will help build that trust back up with you. In any relationship when trust is broken, it takes time to heal those wounds. This is the fourth time that you know of that she has broken your trust and put herself at risk. Everyone makes mistakes, especially children. When they do make a mistake, bad choice, or fail, there is always a teaching opportunity for you to do with them.

Finally, she may have to forego some privacy for now, like random room checks, keeping her bedroom door open, going with you when you run an errand, and others. Keeping her busy with healthy activities will be key, too. This will give her less time to be alone and more time to keep her mind and body active with activities like sports, music, volunteer positions, summer classes, projects at home, etc. Also, ask her therapist for input regarding things you can do to help. We hope this gives you some ideas on how you can help your daughter.