[Two Pronged] I found out that my 13-year-old son has been exchanging explicit photos with his girlfriend

Margarita Holmes, Jeremy Baer

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[Two Pronged] I found out that my 13-year-old son has been exchanging explicit photos with his girlfriend
'I don't know what to do. I went to my son's school, and I spoke to his guidance counselor, but they wanted to see the picture to prove that it really happened'

Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr. Margarita Holmes.

Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in three continents, he has been training with Dr. Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives

Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.

Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr Baer:

I’m a single mom of a 13-year-old boy. My problem is that I found out, from his cellphone, that he has a girlfriend. The girl is only in her first year of high school, while my son is in his second year of high school. By looking at his phone, I found out the girl sends him porn pictures of her private part.

Please help. I don’t know what to do. I went to my son’s school, and I spoke to his guidance counselor, but they wanted to see the picture to prove that it really happened. Sad to say (and to my immense shock and horror), I found out that my son also has a picture of his private parts that he may have sent to his girlfriend.

My problem is if I pursue this case, they may blame my son since his girlfriend is not the one studying in their school. If I insist on following through this case, I am so afraid my son’s education will be sacrificed and it will be he who will be kicked out of the school, which is a pity since his is the brother school. I badly need your advice. Please help. 


Dear Didi,

Parenthood is arguably the most important role in life; you have almost unfettered control over the physical and mental well-being of a child from birth to adulthood. Yet it is a role for which there is no formal training whatsoever, no certification, and little or no oversight in the absence of gross misconduct.

For many people, the best guide to parenthood is how they themselves were raised, and often, their roadmap is to replicate what they consider the best elements of their upbringing and try to improve on the rest. One inevitable problem, however, is that parents were themselves brought up in a bygone age, and the current generation is inevitably facing a whole series of new challenges. One of these is sexting, a technological “advance” which simply did not exist until recently. Previously, there were, of course, photographs, but if they were explicit, they were problematic to develop (unless one had a Polaroid camera). Distribution was also an issue. The advent of social media and smartphones has, of course, radically changed the scenario, and even a momentary indiscretion can now become a viral phenomenon.

Societal attitudes have also changed. Whereas explicit photographs were both rare and thus shocking in the past, now, with the availability of pornography to anyone of any age who has access to the internet, sexual images have less impact. This is not, however, to downplay the possible trauma that widespread distribution could cause. Turning to the specifics of your message, Didi, it is fortunate that your initial reaction – to approach the authorities – was stymied by the school’s insistence on evidence, and that gave you time to discover your son’s complicity. You understandably then decided that disciplinary action would not be the optimal solution.

Being a single parent is not easy at the best of times. However, communication with your son, at least in the area of relationships, appears to have been non-existent if you knew nothing of his girlfriend or their antics. Some serious discussion of the joys and challenges of his teenage years should surely have taken place. Having said that, the situation is worrying but not dire. You now have the perfect opportunity to improve communication with your son and guide him through the inevitable difficulties that his teens will throw in his path. If they have only exchanged pictures, then little has been lost. If more has taken place, you have been forewarned and can take the necessary remedial action, either alone or with the help and guidance of others.

Good luck,

JAF Baer

Dear Didi,

Thank you very much for your letter. I realize how horrified you must have been; that is why you did what you did: contact your son’s school, (probably) hoping your son’s girlfriend would be reprimanded. Luckily, before that went any further, you realized your son might be severely “punished” as well, so I hope you decided not to pursue this avenue any longer.

Mr Baer suggested you start communicating with your son. That seems an excellent first step. It may be particularly difficult because, for the last 13 years, no one was probably more important to you than your son. I am sure he felt the same way towards you when he was younger.

But 13 (or thereabouts) is when adolescents start to individuate. Individuation is a necessary process that allows people to gain a clearer sense of self, separate from their parents and their cultural norms. If you didn’t realize he had a girlfriend, how much more painful it must have been when you found out how close they were. Despite this being the 21st century, high school freshmen do not send such pictures of themselves to all and sundry unless they perceive a true relationship exists.

Communicating with your son means he also feels heard, dearest Didi. Thus, it is not enough that you share the pitfalls you want to protect him from and your plans for his future. What he needs at this crucial time of individuation is to tell you how he feels and what his anxieties are – that is if he trusts you enough to share such intimate details about himself. To trust you, he needs to feel you will truly listen with your heart, as well as your ears, so you do not overreact to anything from him, including things you see inadvertently, like pictures on his cell phone.

Thus, communicating with your son also means listening to yourself. That is the only way to understand your outrage at his girlfriend’s picture. I can understand disappointment, even anger. But you seemed more than that. It seemed like you were out for blood. It was only when you realized that your son may suffer a similar fate that you stopped.

It is of utmost importance that you figure out why your reactions were so strong, Didi. This is the only way your reactions to your son and his girlfriend’s behavior will not throw you off the deep end. Because if you continue with this scorched-earth policy where girlfriends are concerned, your son will continue hiding things from you. Feeling from your letter how much you love your son, I feel it is much better to lose some battles – battles such as asking your son calmly, why such pictures? Or, better yet, not asking at all – in order to win the war of having a long-lasting, warm, trusting, and loving relationship with your son.

All the best,

MG Holmes

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