Is there anything my husband and I can do to undo or minimize the devastation our teenage daughter has experienced because of her involvement with "sexting"? Her life – and our entire family's – was turned upside-down when nude images of her were electronically circulated around her school. As you can imagine, the resulting emotional trauma has been overwhelming. On top of that, she's facing the possibility of criminal charges. Is there any help out there for us?
We're keenly sensitive to the pain your family is going through in the wake of this unfortunate circumstance. We also appreciate your mother's heart and understand that the point of your inquiry is simply to help your daughter in any way you can. At the same time, we feel it's important to point out – and we say this with all due respect – that there can be no question of "minimizing" or "undoing" the anguish your teen is experiencing. Instead, we want to suggest that the key to successfully managing this situation is to help her take ownership of that anguish, assume responsibility for the actions and choices that produced it, and turn it into a springboard to better, wiser behavior in the future.
This will, of course, require you to walk a very fine line. On the one hand, you don't want to fall into the trap of playing the "rescuing parent." If you make light of the situation and dismiss the seriousness of the mistake your daughter has made, you increase the likelihood that she will repeat her error. There's a valuable lesson to be learned here, and it would be tragic if she were to miss out on it.
On the other hand, if you take an excessively hard-line approach, you run the risk of driving your teen into even deeper despair. You probably know how risky this could be: in one well-known case, an eighteen-year-old high school graduate committed suicide after a nude photo she'd transmitted to her boyfriend via cell phone was circulated among hundreds of her classmates.
The secret is to find ways of balancing realism with compassion. Unconditional acceptance and forgiveness are absolutely crucial at a time like this. Indeed, you may never have better opportunity to demonstrate the reality of God's love or to lead your daughter into a deeper understanding of what it means to be a sinner in need of a personal Savior. Everything depends upon the sensitivity with which you handle her devastating emotions.
Naturally, you won't be able to do this on your own. Your daughter isn't the only one requiring help – you, too, are in a very vulnerable position. You need to seek out the support and assistance of pastors, elders, loving friends, caring church members, and qualified professionals as you walk through this dark period in your family's life. In particular, we recommend that you engage the services of a licensed Christian counselor who can come alongside your daughter as she navigates these troubled waters. It would probably be a good idea for the entire family to enter into therapy together. Focus on the Family's Counseling staff can provide you with a list of licensed and approved psychologists practicing in your area. They would also be more than happy to discuss your needs and concerns with you over the phone. If this sounds like an option you might want to explore, feel free to give our Counseling department a call. They'll be pleased to assist you in any way they can.
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