Parents Call Police When Discovering Their Teen Was Sexting

465702557When the parents of a 13-year-old 8th grader in Virginia discovered that their daughter was sending and receiving nude images of other teens on her tablet, they did what many other parents would do, they questioned their daughter and investigated farther. What they found concerned them enough that they did what many parents would not do, they contacted their local law enforcement agency.

What the parents found were sexual pictures of other teenagers (none of their daughter) and conversations going back and forth with other boys that they found were inappropriate for their daughters age.

“Everybody wanted to be her friend, because according to these people, she was cool now,” the teens mother said.

What also upset them were that older teens who they believe were 17 to 18 were requesting to have sex with their daughter. The parents contacted law enforcement to protect their daughter even if that meant she would also get in legal trouble for sexting.

“We did this now to protect her. For now and in the future, because this could get worse, she could be taken,” the teens mother said.

The teens involved in the sexting can face charges as severe as felonies for possessing child pornography.

While the mom acknowledges that many parents wouldn’t do what she did, she feels like she did what she had to do to protect her daughter from possible sexual abuse now and in the future.

A Couple of Quick facts about sexting

  • 40 percent of teenage girls do it as a joke, 34 percent do it to feel sexy, and 12 percent feel pressured to do it according to research.
  • Sending or receiving a sexually suggestive text or image to someone under the age of 18 is considered child pornography and can result in criminal charges.
  • Sexting is defined by the U.S. court system as “an act of sending sexually explicit materials through mobile phones.” The messages may be text, photo, or video.10. In the U.S., 8 states have enacted bills to protect minors from sexting, and an additional 14 states have proposed bills to legislation.

Someways parents can help prevent sexting is by having conversations with their teens, monitoring their electronic devices and using parent controls.

What would you do if you discovered your teen has been sexting? Would you be willing to contact the local authorities as this mother did?

It’s Not All Your Fault

1132x1600_12879_Bat_your_eyes_girl_2d_illustration_girl_sad_woman_portrait_picture_image_digital_artRecently I was talking to a 27-year-old female who had been arrested for the first time on various drug charges. Emotionally she was a wreck. I could tell she was really a good person on the inside, but emotionally she obviously wasn’t as stable as she could be and I immediately sensed that her childhood was filled with some type of neglect or abuse.

Why was I able to sense that? Because from my years of working with people, especially teenagers and women who have been abused and/or neglected as children, I’ve noticed that a large majority of them present very similar including being angry, shy, depressed, manic or lacking boundaries coupled with other cues such as body language.

This young lady was at some points crying, then angry, then laughing, and then crying again. Her life was “a mess” as she put it. She had two children, was in an unstable relationship (like all the other relationships she had been in), couldn’t seem to get her life together or in her words, “do anything right” and she had started smoking crack cocaine, a secret she kept from her family until she got arrested.

She couldn’t understand why she couldn’t get her life together. Why every time things would be going good, she would do something to mess it up. She was living almost in constant chaos and was using drugs to escape it. She had never been diagnosed with anything before and blamed herself for not being able to stop herself from making bad choices over and over again.

And then I asked her if she was ever abused before. I already knew the answer, I would have been shocked if I was wrong, I was hoping I was wrong, but I was right. She started crying and told me she had been molested repeatedly from the age of 8. Her childhood from that point on was filled with abuse, neglect and abandonment. No wonder now as an adult her life was “a mess”.

One of the things that happens to children and even adults when we experience abuse, neglect, trauma, abandonment or anything that is so mentally and emotionally painful that we can’t make sense of it, is that it doesn’t get fully processed and it becomes clutter in our minds, thoughts and emotions.

Our emotions and thoughts become fragmented with a lot of unprocessed feelings and those unprocessed feelings are what eventually will cause us to express ourselves in unhealthy ways, especially if we aren’t naturally resilient or have great social-emotional supports. However, even if we are naturally resilient and have great supports, chances are that fragmentation will still affect the way we think, feel and interact with other people.

That is what was going on with this young lady and until I explained to her how the trauma and pain from her past was affecting her future, she had no idea that at least some of what she was going through wasn’t totally her fault. Deep inside she is holding on to feelings of rage, insecurity and hurt from all the abuse, trauma and abandonment. All that unprocessed, raw emotion has to come out somewhere consciously or unconsciously. In a lot of people it comes out  in the form of rage towards themselves or others.

They may cut themselves, or do other things that demonstrate a lack of love for themselves such as being promiscuous, abusing drugs or alcohol and getting into abusive or neglectful relationships over and over again just to name a few. Some may even attempt suicide. Drugs, sex, self-mutilation and even suicide may be used as ways to try to control the rage they have inside.

They may turn their rage outwards and inflict hurt on others by being abusive, bitter, and pushing people away sometimes to the point where they wake up one day and realize they are totally alone and will blame other people for abandoning them even when they were the one pushing them away.

On top of that, they become so used to hiding their real feelings and emotions that they have difficulty communicating and expressing themselves in a healthy way. In return, they often end up feeling misunderstood and often blaming others for everything that doesn’t go right. Their psychological defenses will leave them blind to their own role in their interpersonal difficulties.

When someone has all this stuff going on in their conscious and subconscious mind, there’s no wonder their lives are continuously in chaos. Almost nothing they do will fix it if they remain unaware and blind to how their past is influencing their present. If they aren’t willing to try to change and get help, then it’s very unlikely that their lives will ever be all that it could have been.

Change Starts With Insight

Sometimes the toughest part of therapy is insight building, which means getting the person to see things as they really are and how they are truly affecting their lives. Many people like to place blame on others and take absolutely no responsibility for their circumstances. Even this young lady at one point was trying to blame her boyfriend for calling the police when he couldn’t find her. When the police found her and search her, they discovered the drugs so this was all the boyfriends fault according to her.

Once I got this young lady to see that she had to take responsibility for her current incarceration, I pointed out to her that it wasn’t all her fault.  Much of her current issues, the relationship instability, the drug use, the emotional instability, all had roots in her past. Once she got this she had an “aha” moment. She had never even put the two together. Even in that moment I could see the light bulb go off as some insight started pouring in.

That was amazing, but now it was time for the real hard work to begin. Now that she had insight, she had even more responsibility to start taking charge of her life and to stop letting the garbage from the past stink up her present and future.

Where To Start Healing

Immediately she said she wasn’t strong enough to do that, that she was too weak and that might be true which is why I told her the first thing she needs to do is to get into rehab. She needs to get clean and then to also find a good psychotherapist. She is going to have to be determined, patient and emotionally open because she will have to face a lot of emotional pain she’s been avoiding and she’ll have to resist the urge and the fear to do what she’s always done which is to get angry,  runaway from getting help or to sabotage herself again.

This is not something that is going to be resolved in one session, one month or even one year. This will likely be a life long battle for her, but one that is worth fighting.

She has a long road ahead of her, but if she is willing to do the work, she will have a much better life. Until she does the work and gets the help she needs, nothing in her life will make sense the way it should and she will always be left feeling like a victim. It’s not all her fault, but she now has the responsibility to take control of her life and to at least minimize the hurt from the past.

This one young lady’s experience echos that of hundred of young women I have dealt with over the last several years. Many of them due to their experiences, stressors, and predispositions to certain illness will go on to become drug addicts, alcoholics, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety, etc. Some of them will be resilient and despite their past live incredible lives as relatively emotionally healthy people.

It may not be all your fault, but it is your job to take responsibility and control over your life.

Disordered Eating And Body Image Issues In Teenage Girls: Part 1

6a00d8341bf67c53ef014e8c0ffaab970d-800wi (1)Working in a high school with teenage girls, I come across teenage girls with body image issues regularly.

Take for instance, one of my 15 year old clients who is so convinced that she is fat that when I first met her she was only drinking water mixed with apple cider vinegar for breakfast and lunch.

For dinner she would have a very small meal. She was not overweight, but due to teasing about her “putting on some weight” by both her mom and peers, she see’s herself as fat and ugly.

Because of all this, her self-esteem is shot and it’s taken weekly individual therapy sessions and weekly support group sessions to get her to at least start eating a light breakfast and lunch, although she is still struggling with body image and self-esteem issues.

Society Creates Body Image Issues In Girls

Unlike boys, teenage girls are put under immense pressure to be beautiful, thin and feminine in most Western industrialized countries. However, biological changes and weight gain are natural parts of pubertal development.

Like the client I was talking about above, her weight gain seems to be more of a womanly weight gain. She seems to be filling out and taken on the body of a woman, compared to that of a prepubescent child. This natural weight gain that most girls experience during puberty, goes against our cultural’s  view of what being beautiful is, which for women includes extreme thinness.

These are conflicting messages for preteen and teenage girls.

On one hand, they are naturally developing and putting on weight, while on the other hand, they are getting messages from society that says their weight gain is unattractive.

Female identity in one part is defined in relational terms, society says they are supposed to be interpersonal and care about other peoples needs, feelings and interests which makes them more vulnerable than males to other people’s behaviors towards and opinions of them.

Another major part of female identity is beauty. In our culture, physical attractiveness contributes a lot to interpersonal success, which is one of the main reasons females strive to be beautiful, to assure popularity and respect.

Also, physically attractive girls are typically seen as more feminine compared to less attractive girls or girls who challenge our cultures traditional views on femininity through their political views such as feminist, or through their sexual orientation, such as lesbians.

Girls tell our society that they are feminine by being concerned with her looks and trying to achieve our culture’s ideal of beauty.

Because our culture demands that girls care about other people’s opinions and that they are defined by their physical appearance,  which society says includes being very thin, there’s no wonder girls are motivated to pursue thinness, at times by any means necessary including starving themselves to death.

Combine these issues with the natural weight gain of puberty and there’s no wonder many teenage girls develop body image issues.

Many teenage girls I’ve worked with who are physically perfect, not even slightly overweight, some were even underweight,  suffer from intense body image dissatisfaction.

A girl I’ve been working with since last year was naturally thin, yet wanted to be thinner so bad that she starved herself to the point of needing to be hospitalized. Like many of the girls I work with who have body image issues, her pursuit for thinness and beauty was so consuming that almost every other aspect of her life, including her education, goals and future took a back seat.

Eating Disorders

Not all girls with body image issues go on to develop an eating disorder like the young girl I just mentioned above, but many of them will.

Eating disorders are a major concern when it comes to the health of teenage girls with an estimated 1% to 3% likely to meet diagnostic criteria for either anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.

Anorexia nervosa is when someone refuses to maintain a minimal average body weight and has body image disturbances such as feeling fat even when they are very thin, and in females who are menstruating, they may experience amenorrhea if their body weight is low enough.

Bulimia nervosa typically includes periods of binge eating, followed by drastic methods to compensate for the binge eating including excessive exercising, fasting, vomiting, using laxatives, etc., accompanied with body image disturbance such as thinking one is much more overweight or unattractive than they really are.

Besides these two eating disorders, there are some girls who have other patterns of eating that fall under disordered eating, such as laxative abuse, vomiting after eating some meals, extreme calorie restriction, and binge eating.

Eating disorders typically begin in early adolescence with much of it’s symptoms typically evident by the late teen years.

While not all girls with body image issues develop full blown eating disorders, there is little research into why some girls do and others don’t develop an eating disorder.

During part 2 we will look at some of the risk and protective factors for young girls to develop an eating disorder.

Teenage Girls And Older Men: What Every Parent Should Know

43347cc03a1a41c2bbb6389d7947f97fWorking with teenage girls, there’s a lot of things I worry about because the teenage years are so perplexing, especially with teenage girls who are often searching for a sense of belonging to the point that they are willing to starve themselves, cut themselves out of pain and shame, sleep with boys just to feel wanted, and sadly, even attempt to take their own lives when they feel as if they don’t and will never belong.

This search for belonging, often sends teenage girls into unhealthy relationships that further damage their self-esteem and often expose them to other damaging factors such as unprotected sex, drugs, alcohol and violence.

During the teenage years, young people are trying to come into their own and often rebel against their parents and other adults, which is why they often chose friends and relationships that their parents disapprove of, including dating older men.

I hate when I am working with a teenage girl and she tells me she is dating an older man, usually because I know that this relationship, while to her may be idyllic and dreamy, is more often a disaster waiting to happen on so many levels.

Recently a client of mine who is 17, started dating a 23 year old man, and while the age difference isn’t drastic, one has to think, what would a 23 year old man who could date anyone 18 and up, want with a 17 year old high school student? Did someone say sex? Of course they had a lot of that, often unprotected, but luckily she never got pregnant although she hasn’t gotten tested for any sexually transmitted diseases. I told her when she initially talked about him pursuing her, his reason was that there aren’t any girls 21 and up that were “cool”, that there just wasn’t something right about a man who should be on the verge of finishing college, dating someone who’s in high school.

I told her that had to say something about his motives, personality, etc., but of course she didn’t see this as a red flag, but was instead flattered that someone who could date anyone his age or older, chose to date her. After several months of bliss and sex, he started treating her badly and her moods were very erratic, varied by however they were doing at the moment. If they were good, she was happy, going to class, doing good. If he was ignoring her, she was depressed, missing class, consumed with anxiety.

Eventually he left her for a woman his own age and that should have been the end of it, but now she is talking about dating his OLDER brother who is married with a kid, but text messaged her one night at 3Am, “I think you are so sexy, and I’ve been fantasizing about you”, from his wive’s phone nonetheless. Once again, all bad signs, but she’s an emotional, hormonal, vulnerable, teenager trying to belong so she see’s this as another challenge.

Why Do Teenage Girls Date Older Men?

Some of the reasons include genuine chemistry. Chemistry doesn’t know have rigid age boundaries so there is a chance that there are genuine feelings there. Another reason includes greater financial and physical independence, which for a young teenage girl looking for independence, an escape from her family or surroundings, is very appealing. Also, older men are considered more mature and experienced in all aspects of life which is attractive to a young girl, especially one looking to escape her life.

The thing is, teenager girls often don’t realize just how unequal the relationship with an older man usually is. Usually the older man has more power simply from the fact that he is older, and they usually have more money and resources than the teenager or her friends. This takes her out of being equal, especially when it comes to making decisions, and because he is older, she will often get dictated to and assume that he is right or knows best. Also, because he will typically have more money than her and her peers, it will be easy for him to impress her by doing simple things such as taking her to the movies, a fastfood restaurant, picking her up from school or buying her a t-shirt or shoes.

Having an older boyfriend also becomes a status symbol, a way for the teenage girl to say that she is already grown-up and part of the adult world. She is no longer a child like her peers. Because of this, it may make it easier for her to start neglecting things like her peers and school work. After all, why should she worry about passing a chemistry test when her boyfriend is worried about paying his rent or losing his job. School and friends may start seeming childish in comparison to her boyfriend’s problems.

Teenage girls also often date older men to rebel against their parents, and the more the parents fight against it, the more likely the boyfriend is seen as an allie and will help begin to alienate her from her parents, under-minding their decisions and further breaking apart her support system, while strengthening his hold and isolating her.

Consequences of Dating Older Men

There are not only psychological risks involved with dating an older man and trying to fit into an adult world precociously, there are also dangers of being exposed to drugs, alcohol, abuse, and an increase rate of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. Young teenage girls who contract sexually transmitted diseases often get them from older boyfriends. Older men usually have had more sexual experience that often include risky sexual behaviors. The young teenage girl is not likely to question his sexual behavior or health status, and even if she did, she is likely to take his word for it instead of asking him to go get tested with her.

Teenage girls who date older men are more likely to get pregnant than teenage girls who date same age males for several reasons:

  • Older men seem to expect the teenage girl to take responsibility for contraceptive and often will use none if not asked.
  • Teenage girls today are less likely to use birth control compared to women in the past.
  • Teenage girls may actually want to get pregnant for several reasons. See my post Young, Poor and Pregnant.
  • An older man may actually not care if he gets the younger girl pregnant or may do so on purpose for control.

One study done by the California Center for Health reports that the average age of the fathers who got a 12 year old pregnant was 19.7, and a 13 year old pregnant was 17.2.

What To Do If Your Teenage Daughter Is Dating An Older Man

First of all, don’t freak out. Doing so may just push your daughter further into his arms. Try to talk to your daughter, express your concerns. Let her know that you only have her best interests at heart. She may still rebel and insist on seeing him, so don’t be afraid to lay down and enforce rules while she is still under 18, living in your house and going to school. Most of these relationships usually fizzle out if the teenager is allowed to come into her own in a healthy way, but often not before she is scarred in someway. A lucky few end up in marriage, which is often proceeded by a child and continues with multiple children, poverty, physical and substance abuse.

Try talking to the boyfriend. Let him know that if he really cares about her, he will abide by your wishes since you only have her best interest in mind and he should too if he cares about her. Depending on the age of your daughter and the age of the man, it may be appropriate to get law enforcement involved. Most of the teenage girls I work with who are dating older men are seeking something they feel like they aren’t getting from home, and while it may seem impossible to please your ever changing and complex teenager, try to talk with her, listen to and understand her. Otherwise, she will search for and find someone or something else to attach herself too.

Understanding Teenage Girls: Motivations and Psychological Meanings in Relating to Males

The other night I happened to catch a television reunion of the reality show Love & Hip Hop Atlanta.

I stared at the screen in not so much as shock as pity as I watched four different women vie for the love and affection of two guys who treated them more as if they women were merely whores, and the guys were their pimps.

The guys seemed to think the heartache and embarrassment they caused these women by their ongoing cheating, lies and manipulations were funny, while the women basically said that no matter how bad they were being treated, they weren’t going to leave their “man”.

One said it was because of good sex, money and furthering her her music career. Another said it was for love and yet another said it was because she had a child with the guy.

To me, none of these were reasons to stay with a man who obviously saw them as being little more than sexual toys to be used and abused.

Still, this got me to thinking.

Working with teenage girls I am always keenly aware of some of the internal conscious and unconscious motivations that effect their decisions, especially in relation to dating, sex, and self-esteem.

As a girl learns about sex, she is also learning about other things such as giving and receiving affection, self-worth and what she means to others.

She also learns about trusting and honesty (or dishonesty) through the ways she is first introduced to sex, especially through the ways she is protected or not protected from being exploited.

“I learned about sex from my dad. I never had a chance for my first time with my boyfriend. Who knows, maybe I [would have] wanted to wait until I got married. But no, I never got to have that chance. I don’t even remember the first time… I feel it ruined my life.”  -Anonymous Teenage Girl, Young Poor and Pregnant: The Psychology of Teenage Motherhood by Judith Music

Shame, fear and guilt are also valuable lessons, as they will (if she is fortunate) help her learn how to keep herself from situations and feelings that may be too painful for her to deal with physically or emotionally.

When these life lessons are learned and experienced in ways that inappropriately shape her sexuality developmentally, they are likely to have far reaching consequences through out her life in the way she perceives her world and those in it.

This effects such a major part of who she is that it also effects who she thinks she can become, what she is capable of and her ability to show and receive love as well as her ability to take control of her destiny.

For girls who grow up in disadvantaged situations, inappropriate sexual socialization is usually the final breaking point to other risk factors such as poverty, unstable family environment, fatherlessness and lack of appropriate nurturing, that already have made this girl vulnerable to men (and teenage boys) looking to exploit her.

This added with social isolation from other people (outside of her family and community) and institutions, becomes a recipe for disaster (often disadvantaged girls are only exposed to people in their immediate communities where important social services are either absent or insufficient).

Social isolation and psychological vulnerability mean that many disadvantaged young women will be controlled by their relations to men not only in the bedroom, but also in the classroom, the street and eventually even the work environment.

“The adolescent female’s sense of self in relation to males is the internal representation of her past experiences with men and- perhaps equally important- of her mother’s roles and relationships to those and other men.”  -Judith Musick

It’s sad to see teenage girls who grow up with a damaged sense of self because of their past relationships to men either directly or vicariously.

These young girls often turn into teen mothers, get stuck in poverty, abused by men, single mothers with a multitude of children by different fathers, abuse drugs, or get caught up in one of various avenues of the sex world such as prostitution.

It’s important that we protect these young girls as much as possible from being exploited and abused, physically and mentally. It is also important that we help build their self-esteems, educate them and teach them the their value is priceless and doesn’t depend on a boy’s, a man’s, or anyone else opinion of her.

A Quick Glimpse at ADHD in Teenage Girls

As I wrote in a previous post, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder is 2 to 4 times more common in boys than in girls and thus often doesn’t get discussed much when it comes to teenage and adolescent girls.

In her article Calm Down, Boys, Adolescent Girls Have ADHD Too, Mary Bates discusses how ADHD goes unrecognized in girls because they often don’t present with the stereotypical hyperactivity and attention deficit that boys usually present with and because diagnosing ADHD in itself can prove difficult because teenagers can be impulsive, inattentive and disorganized, but not noticeably hyperactive.

Kathleen Nadeau, a clinical psychologist in Silver Spring, Maryland, and coauthor of Understanding Girls with AD/HD states that girls are less likely to be hyperactive and impulsive, but instead may appear “spacey,” unfocused, inattentive, have trouble staying organized and/or remembering directives or homework.

It wasn’t too long ago that ADHD was two separate disorders, ADHD and ADD (attention deficit disorder), but now they are almost always diagnosed as ADHD with a sub-type of either predominately attention-deficit, predominately inattentive or combined.

Since girls often present with different symptoms, they are often diagnosed five years later than boys or go un-diagnosed altogether, thus missing out on proper treatment for their disorder. “A 16-year-old girl who runs stop signs and can never find her homework might not be a rebel- she could have ADHD” Bates says.

Treatment for ADHD includes stimulant medications, school and family counseling. Families can try ignoring minor annoyances while creating a point or contract system (“Wash the dishes now and I will leave you alone while you play your video games”). ADHD is not a curse, many successful and brilliant people today and in history have ADHD, just look at Michael Phelps.