Q: I have a 16-year-old daughter who wants to date and I am totally against it. I don't want her to date until she has completed high school. (It also goes against our family's culture.) My daughter always puts up a fight over this issue. I'm afraid she might be dating behind my back so I have basically grounded her so that she can't date. Do you think what I've done is fair? If not, what can I do?
A: I'm glad you are seeking answers to your dilemma -- it shows your willingness to be open minded! As parents, it's important that we strive to be fair and flexible with our teens. Being a mom of two teenage daughters myself I can empathize with your concerns.
Your daughter's desire to date is in the range of normal behaviour for a 16-year-old in the society in which she is living. Socially, her need to belong and be accepted by her peers is vital. If she doesn't feel she fits in, it can be very detrimental to both her self-esteem and her social and emotional development.
Our children experience key changes, both physical and emotional, in these years. By restricting your daughter's ability to socialize with her peers, you restrict her ability to discover who she is and develop independence and important relationship skills.
As well, if you continue to use rigid and controlling approaches you run the risk of losing any influence at all in her life. And of equal importance, you will likely destroy your relationship with her.
Open up the Discussion
Your daughter is growing up in a democracy. She will believe it is her right to have a voice and a say in her life. Anything less will feel disrespectful to her. It is time to sit down and explore solutions to this problem together. Remember you may be giving up control (and that can be very scary) but you will gain influence in her life and hopefully her respect.
Follow these 5 steps when problem-solving:
1. Calm time
Present the issue at a calm time and in a respectful (non-blameful) way: "Your social life seems to be very important to you now. I would like to see if we can find a solution that will be satisfactory to both of us."
2. Teen's point of view
Start off by listening to your daughter's position first. (It's important for her to believe you're understanding and caring of her point of view -- whether you agree with it or not!) Give her a chance to elaborate on the injustice of it all and listen without comment (small sounds like "Mmm" or phrases like "I see" can be a help!). Then summarize what you've heard her say. "You feel I am being too controlling and overprotective. And you think I don't trust you. Is that correct? Anything else?" (Always good to give them another shot at voicing their opinion now that the wheels are in motion!)
Page 1 of 2 — Learn to get your point of view across on page 2
3. Parent's point of view
Now it's time to share your point of view. It's probably best to keep this brief since she's likely heard all of your complaints before. Get to the heart of how you feel (in 10 words or less): "I love you too much to fight like this. Can we look at some possible solutions together?"
Time to brainstorm. At this stage, all ideas are accepted. It's a good idea to jot them down. Also, you want to keep the process positive -- this isn't the time to evaluate or knock ideas.
Time to sort through and hopefully agree on a solution that's mutually satisfactory. Write down the decision and agree on a test period -- perhaps for a week or two. Follow-through is a key to the success of these sorts of agreements. After the trial period, sit down again and evaluate how it is working. If it's working, congratulate yourselves; if it isn't, go back to the drawing board.
Independence and good judgement come from life experience and often, unfortunately, from many mistakes (or bad judgment). If you can embrace the attitude that mistakes are an opportunity to learn and grow, you will be much more supportive of your daughter. Of course, we also want them to take responsibility for their mistakes!
State Your Values
Your daughter is living in a number of different societies: her family; peer group; school; and possibly a place of worship. Each of these groups has different rules and values. Like most teenagers she will experiment with these values throughout her teen years, and like most teenagers will likely come back to what is most familiar. So have some faith in the roots you have given her and continue to model (not force) your family values.
Get Outside Help
All parents of teens have moments of doubt and fear for their child's future. You don't need to carry this burden alone. Join a parenting class; read a parenting book (see suggestions below); talk with other parents; go to a counsellor with your daughter. Seek the knowledge, skills and courage to be a positive leader in your daughter's life.
1. Positive Discipline For Teenagers, by Jane Nelson
2. Teen Brain, Teen Mind by Dr. Ron Clavier
3. Grounded for Life?! by Louise Felton Tracy
Beverley Cathcart-Ross is a certified parent educator, a private counsellor, a mother of four teenagers and founder of The Parenting Network.