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Trusting Your Teen
Q: I am having a tough time right now with my 13-year-old daughter who looks old for her age. She is receiving, in my opinion, way too much attention from older boys. I believe that she is secretly dating a boy who is 15 or 16. I am divorced, so she spends part of the week with me and part with her father. I have expressed my views on dating and there are times when I can't monitor what she is doing, but I try! She locks herself in her room and stays on the phone or she sneaks out late at night to talk to her friends. Recently, I found a young man's picture that was sent to her.
Whenever I try to have a conversation regarding her choice of friends and being responsible and honest with me, she says I'm too judgmental and too strict. She was an honor-roll student two years ago and last year her grades went down. I want her to be more grounded and respectful of my values. I'm looking into therapy for her to help her deal with the divorce. I'm fearful that if I don't address what's going on, it might go beyond normal teen stuff. Everyone in both of our families is trying to offer as much support and love we can. How do I give her some of the freedom that she wants when I don't trust her?
A: You are engaged in the eternal struggle between a parent and a child who is seeking her freedom from restrictions (normal teen behavior). It is difficult not to take it personally, but I encourage you to remind yourself often that you are the parent, and while your daughter can have her say, she may not necessarily get her way.
The one thing you cannot control is who likes her and whom she likes, but you do have control on how you respond to her behavior. It is okay not to trust your daughter when she is not trustworthy. You should set the expectations, boundaries, and consequences for study and dating. Discuss with her your expectations and the consequences, and then follow through. An example would be her phone usage. If she is misusing the phone -- sneaking calls to friends, etc. -- a consequence would be to remove her phone. If you would like some help, there are some wonderful parenting books at your local library or your school counselor may have some, too. Parenting support groups are also a good avenue for ideas and for feeling less alone.
Getting your daughter in a children of divorce support group may be even more helpful than individual counseling. My guess is she will resist individual counseling, but I certainly think it is worth a try if a group is not available.
I applaud you for being aware that you must address these issues now. With a mom and family as supportive as you describe, you will find the best way to interact with your daughter and my guess is that she will surprise you with how well she has absorbed your and her father's values.
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Connie Collins, professional school counselor, worked for 35 years in public education as a teacher and counselor at the middle school and secondary levels. Collins worked daily with the parents of the students in her various schools, and has facilitated several parenting groups.