Dear Prudence,

I have a beautiful, awesome 17-year-old daughter. She does well in school and she doesn’t get into trouble. This morning I dropped her off for band camp and she accidentally left her phone in the car. I answered a few of her incoming texts, explaining that my daughter was not in possession of the phone. Then a few texts caught my eye, and I snooped. It turns out my daughter is sexting with a couple of boys, sending naked pictures of herself over her phone. Should I pretend I never saw it but somehow subtly offer some advice about the dangers of sexting?

I don’t want her to feel the shame of knowing I know. But even worse, I don’t want her to feel the shame of the entire world knowing if one of these boys decides to be an ass. These boys have sent pictures of their junk, too. If she were in a serious relationship, I could understand her having sex, but it’s the sending of pictures that really has me bothered. What do I do?

—Bewildered Mom

Dear Mom,

Forget being coy — your daughter certainly isn’t. You need to sit her down, tell her what you saw, and discuss what to do next. Read this sexting horror story and then show it to your daughter. It will make you want to gather up all the phones involved, smash them, douse them with acid, then bury them in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

To summarize: girl sends nude photo of self to boy, boy forwards to another girl, and within hours it’s blasted across the entire school district. The cops are called, arrests are made, and the good news is that kids involved avoided becoming registered sex offenders for possession and distribution of child pornography. Fortunately, it’s very rare for sexting to go this far—here’s a good summary of the legal issues. But even if prosecutors never get a peek at your daughter’s pictures, she needs to know that sending nude photos of herself can be a life-changer.

For more advice, I turned to my Slate colleague, Emily Bazelon, author of the forthcoming book Sticks and Stones, which is about all forms of bullying. From her interviews with teens involved in sexting, Bazelon says the girls often explained they sent a photo because the boys asked for it as a sign of trust. (Anticipating such juvenile idiocy is the reason the Founding Fathers declared the president has to be 35 years old — although as we know all too well, this doesn’t always solve the problem.) She suggests you make sure your daughter understands these digital images can be used against her at any time and she must take action to get them removed.

Your daughter should talk to the boys with whom she’s shared photos and explain the trouble the nude shots could cause for all of them. If the photos have not been forwarded, everyone can simply delete them. If they have been, it might be necessary to get the parents involved to make sure this contagion is contained. Let’s hope the parents are helpful, not hotheads. If your daughter doesn’t understand the gravity of having naked photographs of herself floating forever on the Internet, then she has a lot of growing up to do.


Dear Prudence,

I love my fiancée, Janet, but I have concerns about the way she treats my 8-year-old daughter, Carly. The three of us recently went to a local water park. I gave in and allowed Janet to pay, but I was concerned because Janet gives gifts with strings attached. When Carly refused to go on any of the “scary” water slides, Janet complained bitterly and said she wasn’t getting value for her money.

I’m concerned that Carly is more mature and honest about her own feelings than Janet is. Carly told me, “Daddy, I’m terrified of heights, I don’t want to go, and if you make me it’ll be really cruel of you.” Janet was unmoved and continued to sulk and make snide comments.

Because we can’t have children, Janet wants us to adopt after we marry, but I’m reluctant to bring any more children into the picture until Janet has resolved her issues. What should I do?

— Al Bundy in Training

Dear Al,

So Janet must be really great in bed. Or maybe she’s on the Forbes 400. I’m trying to come up with a reason you fail to mention that would explain why you are engaged to this jealous, manipulative punitive woman. But even if she’s done things in bed you’ve never gotten anyone else to go along with or she has an enviable bank account, that shouldn’t be enough for you to consider marrying someone who bullies your child. I get an unfortunate number of letters from people like your daughter who describe childhoods in which their father married a woman who resented them. The stepmother, true to fairy tale form, did everything she could to make the children’s lives miserable and estrange them from their father. The fathers, knowing the hell to pay by standing up to the new wife, became passive jerks.

Blessedly, you haven’t yet married Janet. You are both able to see her character with great clarity and admire your daughter’s wisdom and strength. Break it off with the fiancée and vow to honor your obligation to your little girl by finding a partner who will enhance all of your lives.

— Prudie

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