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Ask an expert: My 14 year old daughter has become very secretive is spending a great deal of time online...

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Zoe E Breen Zoe E Breen | 14:13 UK time, Thursday, 9 February 2012

Full question:

My 14 year old daughter has become very secretive of late and seems to be spending a great deal of time on the internet or on her mobile phone. She has also started dressing differently, obviously trying to look a lot older than she is. I am worried but I cannot get her to talk to me about what is going on in her life that makes being online or on the phone so important. Any clues or tips?

Answered by our panel of experts:

The situation you have described is very familiar. There are several possible explanations ranging from completely normal to extremely worrying. So it's important not to panic or over react. 

Coming at your daughter in an angry or over critical way, accusing her of being deceitful or anything like that may make it harder for her to see you as a potential source of help and understanding, a way out of whatever might be troubling her.

As children get older they develop a better understanding of issues and have a right to some privacy. Developmentally, it is perfectly normal for them to want to strike out on their own, form their own independent relationships and meet new people.

In many ways the internet is a perfect medium for doing this. The problem is that there are also people out there, typically older men, who are perfectly well aware of it. They go looking for teenagers and are very skilled at manipulating their feelings, perhaps convincing them that they are the great and lasting love of their life when in truth they are only seeking their own sexual gratification. 

They might try to persuade your child to meet in real life, or try to get them to pose for still or video images, perhaps with highly sexualised content.

The changes in her appearance and increased secretiveness could indicate a problem like this or something else altogether. It is important that you try and establish trust and communication with her. Also, this is not an "internet problem". It's about your daughter and what she's going through.

Cutting off the internet or removing the mobile phone could make things worse not better.  If you remain seriously worried and all of your strategies for trying to get your daughter to talk to you don't seem to be working it might be an idea to seek help or advice. Try Family Lives or CEOP's ThinkUKnow.

If you are a parent and are worried about your teen or child over-sharing online visit the Share Take Care: Ask an expert page to read the advice our panel of experts gave other parents.

Visit the Share Take Care website for more information on help and support for parents.

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