Are Your Teens Sexual Online?

When The Saturday Early Show family and adolescence counselor, Mike Riera, opened his email this month, he found one parent who's trying to tame the "gimme's" and another who's troubled by what she saw when she did a little online snooping.

The following are the letters he received and his advice:

Letter 1: Online Messages

Dear Mike,
I have been checking out my 13-year-old daughter's Instant Message conversations on the sly. Unfortunately I have read some pretty sexual discussions with her male friends. I know she's not sexually active ... but I'm not sure how to handle this. Should I let her know I'm sneaking behind her back?

Ouch! This is one of those privacy things where it's best to avoid the problem to begin with. That is, tell the child ahead of time when you get online services that you'll be randomly checking their email account from time-to-time. This reduces the temptation for this type of going-behind-the-back behavior.

But it's too late for that. Come clean with her: You were snooping. You probably should have told her ahead of time and, for that, you are sorry. However, what you saw distressed you.

Now let's talk about it. This is the nature of IM'ing that it's easier to have conversations with other kids that you would never have face-to-face. It's also your daughter's exploration of sexuality. So talk with her about it. Better yet, answer some of her questions and talk about the topics she brought up in the email. Also, get her some books on the topic and just put them on her bed, without any discussion.

Letter 2: Gratefulness

How do I teach my 7-year-old daughter to be grateful? After receiving gifts, she always asks, "Is there anything else?"

This is how most 7-year-olds feel inside, whether they say it aloud or not. You have a rather forthright 7-year-old. There are two ways to approach this:

  1. Teach her what it feels like to give. Have her intimately involved in selecting, wrapping, and card-making for peers' birthdays. Do some community service with her that involves direct assistance to others. This teaches her what it feels like to give and teaches her compassion, too.
  2. Insist on proper manners, no matter what she feels like inside. Teach her to thank people for the gift and their thoughtfulness. Most important, practice this with her. Role-play various situations in her life: Aunt Rose giving her yet another red sweater; Cousin Rick giving her a game she got the day before from a friend at school.