Dear Your Teen:
My husband and I were out of the country and left our 17 year old to stay home one night herself with strict rules to come home after work and not go anywhere. I recently found a restaurant receipt in her room from the night she was supposed to be at home, so she went out that night and I’m not sure how to address it with her.
The good news here is that you trust your daughter enough to let her stay home alone while you are not only not home but also out of the country. You must have a great amount of belief in your daughter’s ability to both make good decisions and to keep herself safe. The “bad” news is that despite your strict rule that your daughter come home after work she nonetheless broke this rule and went out to eat. It can be very jarring when the children that we trust lie to us. It is not only disappointing but can make us doubt our judgment as parents.
Perhaps, you feel that you over-estimated your daughter’s maturity level. I am not aware of the history of your daughter’s behavior. Perhaps there is something that you are not sharing. Maybe she has lied to you in the past? My intuition and your inquiry suggest otherwise. It sounds like your daughter BOTH goes to school and works at age 17. You should certainly congratulate yourself and your daughter. She seems like a very competent young woman.
As for your concern about how to address the restaurant receipt with your daughter I suggest that you calmly express your concern. Let your daughter know that you are impressed that she was able to stay home alone. After that, ask her why she broke the rule that she was to come straight home after work. Listen to what she has to say very carefully. Perhaps she felt that it was too strict a rule but she was unable to share that with you because she didn’t want to increase your anxiety level. It is unlikely that going out to eat marks the beginning of defiant behavior.
Next time you set up strict rules with your daughter make sure that she is in agreement. And, consider the possibility that your daughter is able to handle a greater amount of responsibility. After all, she didn’t have a party or engage in any sort of risky behavior. Talk to her about how you feel but then congratulate yourself privately on having raised a young woman who is comfortable staying home alone while her parents are traveling. It seems to me that you are doing a good job here and that there is little reason for anger or intense concern.
Dr. Barbara Greenberg is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of teens, children, and families. She is the co-author of Teenage As A Second Language (Adams Media). She writes and consults for several publications and frequently appears on TV. You can find her work on her website drbarbaragreenberg.com.