Dr. Gilda Speaks to Parents How to Cope With Your Teen’s Desires by Gilda Carle, Ph.D. www.DrGilda.com
Dear Dr. Gilda,
My teenage daughter and I fight all the time. She has a boyfriend and a few girlfriends who I just can’t stand. How can I get her to see the light? I’d like to spend more quality time with her without arguing. Frustrated Mom
Dear Frustrated Mom,
The scenario between teens and their parents is often not pretty. Teens are neither children nor grownups. They are trapped in the middle of hormonally charged bodies, undergoing constant change. They themselves can barely keep up with, much less understand, their own emotions. Mothers and fathers, once role models and allies to their kids, are suddenly seen as competitors, “snoopervisors,” and control freaks.
What’s Going On?
In an effort to get their teens to tow the line and “behave,” frustrated parents take to using punishment, grounding, withdrawal of perks, and criticism of friends. In a push and pull effort, teens continue to try to enunciate their independence while parents resist their attempts. As this difficult process continues through the teen years, parents wonder how they will survive. Boyfriends are an especially big bone of contention for parents of girls. Either parents don’t like their daughters’ choices, or they want their kids to delay their boy-craziness and concentrate on school. It’s not often that a parent appreciates the guy her daughter has chosen.
One Mother’s Story
When I received this lovely note, I was impressed with this mother’s response: Dear Dr. Gilda: My 16-year-old daughter is in love with a sweet, wonderful, caring, generous man of 21. They have a great relationship, built on communication, respect, and trust. Due to their ages, I realize that the chances are that they will eventually drift apart. My friends think I’m crazy to allow them to be together. It would be possible for me to send him away, but my daughter is so much better off with him, so much happier and well adjusted, that I see no reason to do that. He refuses to have intercourse, not because of her age, but because he wants to wait until he marries. They do engage in other sexual activities, though. My question is this: is it ever appropriate for a 16-year-old girl (she’s not a virgin) and a 21-year-old man to be romantically involved? Mary Dear Mary: Let me tell you that you seem to be one of the most level-headed parents I’ve spoken with. When it comes to love, anything is possible. Of course, at 16, your daughter can’t possibly know what she’ll want when she’s older, and a man of 21 is not mature enough to map out his life plan at this time. But since you recognize that they are good for each other, and since intercourse is not an issue, the possibilities of pregnancy or STD’s are less, so why can’t this romance run its course?
Obviously, your daughter has experienced sexuality before, and she’s in no hurry to press for it again now. You’re doing the right thing in supporting the relationship, which you might not have much say in, anyway, if you were to try to destroy it. At least with this guy, you know where she is, you know with whom, you trust them both, and she’ll either grow with him, or take what she needs to learn from the experience and move on. If anything, your encouragement of her choices does her good. Unlike most girls her age, she won’t get into the usual teenage rebelliousness with you because you’ve trusted and supported her decision-making. You sound very rational. No wonder your daughter chose her boyfriend so wisely!
Have An Open Dialogue
Unlike this mom, parents usually take the opposite tack, and demand their kids break off ties with friends they don’t like. Instead, parents should try to get around their sources of conflict by establishing an open dialogue with their kids. At first, kids may be resentful and resistant, but parents should nonetheless continue trying. Explain to your teen that no matter who they are, where they live, what their educational background or financial status, most parents have one objective in mind: to protect their child. Admit that parents never give impartial advice, and whatever they say is always accompanied by the hope that they’ll move their kids toward safety. When you have that honest dialogue with your teen, explain that you are acting in two roles: one, as sometimes overprotective parent, and two, as unpaid guardian angel. Sure, the first role can be a real pain, but should your child need the second one—and who doesn’t need an occasional angel?—look at what she gets as an added bonus. Make your teen aware of her choices. She can either reject your interference, which will add to the conflict between you, or accept the benefits of having you as a loving parent. When she does let you in on her life, however, you can then assist when she does need you. Let your teen know that making decisions is a way of being an independent grown-up, and it is sometimes sticky even for adults to choose between two equally appealing possibilities. Let her know that as she grows older, she’ll undoubtedly be challenged to decide between issues that are far more difficult than those she faces during her teen years. Through open dialogue, your teen will learn that when she lets her parents know her friends and issues, there’s a better chance her folks will trust her judgment. That translates to less of a hassle for both of you in the long run. Your teen needs to know you trust him or her. Say something like, “This is my opinion, but I trust you will make the right decision.” The mutual respect that ensues will provide big payoffs. Dr. Gilda
Dr. Gilda Carle is an educator, relationship therapist, media personality, college professor, motivational speaker, and author of Teen Talk with Dr. Gilda: A Girl’s Guide to Dating and Don’t Bet on the Prince! How to Have the Man You Want by Betting on Yourself. See www.DrGilda.com, and register for a Personal Dialogue with Dr. Gilda through E-Mail or Phone.