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I Don’t Like Daughter’s Boyfriend: Practical Advice from Dr. Lisa Damour

I Don’t Like My Daughter’s Boyfriend

Dear Your Teen:

I don’t like my 15-year-old daughter’s boyfriend. Until now, she’s always been a good kid and we have always had a good relationship with her. But her very first boyfriend is worrisome. He has videos on Facebook of him getting drunk and stoned. And last year, he broke into our house while we were on vacation. I really don’t like him.

I believe that I should support our daughter, voice our concerns but not forbid her from seeing him because that will make things worse. But this is not the route I took. I did forbid her from seeing him and told her he’s not allowed at our house. My daughter says he has changed and she really likes him. Either way, I just cannot allow this boy into my home. But now my daughter is telling lies and sneaking around just to see him. HELP!!!!!

ANSWER | Lisa Damour, Ph.D

I understand why, ideally, you would have wished to support your teenage daughter. In a perfect world, you would share your concerns and keep her safe while she came to her own conclusions about her new boyfriend. I also understand the route you did choose—to forbid your daughter to see this boy. Given his past involvement with vandalizing your home (not to mention his drug involvement), you are worried.

But here’s the rub: your daughter is under the impression that he has changed. Realistically, you can’t confine your daughter to your home and remove any access she has to technology. And a teen sneaking out is very possible. Sadly, you do not have the power to prevent her from being in contact with him.

Suggested Script to Start a Conversation

I’m wondering what would happen if you lovingly shared the following with your daughter:

“You know that we do not feel good about your boyfriend. And you know why. We are uncomfortable with him because we love and cherish you. Given that he has been reckless with himself, we worry, by extension, that he might be reckless with you. In fact, we think you would find it strange and hurtful if we whole-heartedly supported your relationship with him, given what we know about his past.

“At the same time, we know that we can’t actually prevent you from having contact with him, no matter how much we wish we could. We know that you feel he has changed. Also it’s clear that you are willing to sneak around and lie to us in order to be in contact with him. We don’t want you to feel that you have to lie and sneak around. That’s not the kind of relationship we’ve had in the past. I’m sure it feels as bad for you as it does for us.

“Help us here. What ideas can you propose? We want to feel assured that your safety and well-being are protected if you are going to be in contact with this young man. Of course, we hope he has changed. But, we also want you to be able to come to us for support if it turns out he hasn’t. We want to have an honest relationship with you. And we don’t want you to be in a position where you can make mistakes that can’t be undone.”

A Letter or Email Can Work Too.

Obviously, this is a mouthful. If this feels too hard face-to-face, try a letter or email message that gives your teenage daughter time to take in where you are coming from. Be clear that you are wishing to protect her best interests, not stand in the way of her fun. What matters is that you get an honest conversation going about your concerns and the real limits of your powers. Where you are now—forbidding something that you can’t actually prevent—is a losing game for you and your daughter. Put the focus where it belongs: on the actual risks she may be facing in dating this boy, not on the risk of you catching her.

Dr. Lisa Damour

Dr. Lisa Damour is a clinical psychologist in private practice and director of the Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls in Shaker Heights, Ohio.