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Daughter Seeing Older Boy
Q: Until yesterday my husband and I had no idea our 14-year-old daughter was interested in boys. My daughter usually picks up the mail on her way home from the bus stop, but my husband and I took an afternoon walk and decided to pick up the mail ourselves.
There was a letter to my daughter from a 17-year-old boy. When she got home we asked her if she had given out our home address and phone number to any boys and she said yes. She said she has called him four times.
We are shocked. We don't know if we trust her now, and we wonder what's wrong with a 17-year-old who would be interested in someone so much younger. We scolded her, but did not yell or become upset. When she came home today, she went straight to her room and won't talk to us.
My husband and I got married when we were 18 and had our daughter when we were 17. I know the things that can happen. Life was very hard for us. I don't want this for my daughter. Until yesterday I believed that we set a good example for our children. Now I feel as though we haven't done enough!
A: Don't take it personally. My guess is that you have indeed set a good example. Your daughter's interest in boys and her keeping this relationship secret from you are very normal behaviors. I would guess that she has kept this relationship from you because she knows that you would disapprove of it because of the disparity in their ages.
You do have reason to be concerned about a relationship between a 17-year-old boy and your 14-year-old, eighth-grade daughter. Seventeen-year-old boys are indeed at very different developmental stages -- intellectually, socially, emotionally, and sexually -- than 14-year-old girls. I have seen very few healthy relationships of this nature. If your daughter has had no prior boyfriends or flattering attention from boys, she may be very reluctant to give up this relationship, despite the age difference and logical explanations why it's not a great idea.
I would also guess she is aware of your fear that she'll repeat the mistakes of your youth. As of now, you really don't know the nature of this relationship. It is within your rights as conscientious parents to know this boy's identity and the status of this relationship. Your daughter probably will insist that it's none of your business...but it is.
This is not a time for anger, blame, shame or punishment. It's a time for empathy, understanding, and reaching out to your daughter. Give her the opportunity to talk with you about this without interrupting her or judging her. Much more listening than lecturing is in order now. She doesn't need to hear things like, "You know the only thing a 17-year-old boy wants with a 14-year-old girl, don't you?" Knowing why she feels a need to keep this or perhaps any involvement with boys a secret from you will be helpful in talking this over with her. You may agree to disagree during these discussions but you must respect her opinions, even if they are different from yours.
Use this occasion to connect with your daughter in an even more meaningful manner. Try to remember what it was like to be her age before you begin these talks. If she experiences your openness and empathy, she will be more likely to come to you for support and understanding as she navigates the confusing, often overwhelming, waters of adolescence.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.