I sat across my best friend from high school last week while enjoying a plate of sushi. We were discussing the ever-popular topic of how lucky we were to go to high school in the ’90s where cell phones were unheard of any the only way to document anything was through a camera, and we were almost always aware when our picture was being taken.
Also, selfies weren’t a thing but if they were, you bet your ass we all would have been caught taking lots of them before school, when we were bored on a Friday night, and we would have most definitely snapped away and post a picture of ourselves secretly hoping our ex who broke our heart would see us looking fab and they’d be overflowing with regret.
Then, she ripped out her phone and pulled up her Instagram, showing me a picture of her daughter who is 15. The photo was sexy, a bit revealing, but there was nothing that stood out as being too much.
She was telling me she was struggling because she didn’t want to body shame her, but as her mother, she felt uncomfortable and she didn’t know how to approach her daughter about it, if at all.
I know how she feels and I shared my story about my 13-year-old daughter who is taking the same road and posting semi-provocative, sexy pictures on Instagram.
There was comfort around this conversation for both of us for two reasons: first, it’s always nice to know you are not alone when going through a first with your teens, especially a tricky one like this where the answer on how to deal with this doesn’t feel clear.
Neither of us have time for someone who would turn up their nose and act like their child would never do such a thing– that just makes us laugh all the way to the corner of “just wait” and “you can handle it your way when this (or something else you aren’t sure how to handle) does happen.”
But more than that, neither of us knew how to navigate this with our teens and we’ve both made some major mistakes along the way with how we have handled our daughters’ sexy Instagram posts.
I want my daughter to have confidence. I teach her to be herself and love herself and respect herself.
I remind her we are all unique and beautiful in our own way.
I preach to her about the fact if anyone puts their hands on her in a way she doesn’t like, it is never, ever her fault.
I want nothing more than for her to be comfortable in her own skin and express herself apologetically.
But then, last week when I saw a picture of her on social media with her shirt hanging low off one shoulder and her bralette was visible along with a bit of cleavage and parted lips, I needed a moment, a long moment.
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a picture of her online like this and I’ve said some things to her I was proud of like, “Honey, you are so beautiful. And I love this picture, but tell me what this is about,” as a way to open up the conversation without her feeling as if she’s done something bad– this makes her shut down.
And I’ve also said some things I’m not proud of like,”Why do you feel like you have you have to present yourself in that way? This isn’t the Kardashian/Jenner house.”
Those comments make her feel bad. They are rude and mean They make her feel shame and I deeply regretted it after seeing her face and hearing her say, “I’ll delete it.”
I never want to make my daughter feel any of these emotions. She loves clothes and make up and taking pictures of herself and sharing with her friends and on her social media platform. And she watches me do the same.
She cheers other girls on when they take a selfie of themselves, leaving encouraging comments. And she watches me do the same.
She does not block me from social media (although I’m sure she really wants to), and asks my opinions about outfits and hairdos.
She wants to be her own person but she’s also looking for some sense of boundaries and direction
I know all the girls are doing it. I know she struggles with herself and posting a selfie gets her positive attention from other girls and she gives it back.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care what fellow moms would think if they saw some of her pictures.
I’d be lying if said I didn’t want her to cool it and she could post whatever she wanted.
These young girls are our little girls. They are our daughters. And we care about what they are putting out there and that’s allowed.
But teaching them to have confidence and support them and not shame them for showing a bit of cleavage or parting their glossy lips in a picture is allowed too. And after my lunch that afternoon, my friend and I realized this social media situation is just like every other parenting dilemma we are facing.
We have to handle it with grace. We have to support our kids and show them unconditional love without shaming them. We have to find balance and guide them and hope they make the best decision. We have to show them what is age-appropriate behavior, and what is not without making them feel worse about themselves than they already do because we all know the teen years can sabotage and spread of self-esteem you may have.
We have to do our best because really, that will always be good enough for our children, no matter what situation we are up against.
The author wishes to remain anonymous.