When my older daughter was fourteen, she started a relationship with an eighteen-year-old. I did not approve, but in order to keep them from sneaking around, I let them see each other in my home with strict guidelines. Three years have passed, and now my daughter is no longer that guy’s girlfriend.

Recently I noticed that my daughter was acting strangely, and she told me that she was getting back together with the guy. I asked her why, and… she began to cry as she showed me text messages from him in which he threatens her that she must have sexual relations with him, or he will publish nude photos that she took of herself and sent to him from her phone when she was fifteen years old…. I believe that I am capable of killing the guy if those photos get out! … Knowing that the photos might pass from one phone to another fills me with rage toward my daughter and that guy.

Dear Friend,

Your emotional response is very normal under the circumstances, but you must proceed wisely so that the damage can be contained. Do not take matters into your own hands! You will only make the situation worse. This is one of those times when you need to be as shrewd as a snake and as innocent as a dove.(1)

What that guy is threatening to do is illegal in many countries. At fifteen, your daughter was a minor, and distributing pornographic images of a minor is a criminal act in more than ninety countries. In some of those countries, the mere possession of child pornography is illegal. The guy, an adult at eighteen, could be arrested and sentenced as a sex offender.

If you live in one of those countries, take the phone to the police and report the crime. It is very likely that the police will be able to handle the situation in a way that will put an immediate stop to the guy’s threats. Of course you will be embarrassed to go to the police, but do not let shame stop you from doing the right thing. Take your daughter with you so that she will have to face some of the negative consequences of what she did. You may have to wait for hours, or come back at a later time, but do not give up. Never let inconvenience stand in the way of justice.

However, if what the guy is doing is not illegal in your country, then the police may have some advice on what steps you can take to stop the threats. If they cannot help, then while at the police station your daughter could text the guy saying where you are and that you are reporting his possession of child pornography. This could cause him to delete all the photos immediately to prevent the police from finding them.

Teenagers and young adults don’t seem to understand the dangers of the digital world. They do not comprehend that the phone company and the email servers, as well as computer hackers, can get access to anything that is sent by text or email, and certainly anything posted on the Internet.

Your daughter has probably learned her lesson, but there are innumerable young people who are at risk because of dangerous social media habits. We recommend that all parents who pay the bills for phones, computers, Internet connections, and even cable TV should be the administrators of all devices. All children should know that their parents are the owners of the devices and that the parents have the right to check accounts at anytime, including all social media apps. Of course the children won’t like it, so they can choose to give up their devices if they prefer, or pay for alternatives with their own money.

God has given parents the responsibility of caring for their children, and as they get older it is very difficult to know how much freedom they should have as teenagers. However, safety must be considered before privacy rights. Even when dealing with their own children, parents should be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

We wish you well,

1 Mt 10:16