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Ask The Expert: I Don’t Like My 15-Year-Old Daughter’s Boyfriend

Dear Your Teen:

I don’t like my 15-year-old daughter’s boyfriend. Until now, we’ve 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 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!!!!!

EXPERT | Lisa Damour, Ph.D.

I understand the route you chose—to forbid your daughter to see this boy. Given his past involvement with vandalizing your home and drug involvement, you are worried.

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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.

See if you can lovingly share the following three thoughts with your daughter:

  1. You know that we do not feel good about your boyfriend. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 make mistakes that can’t be undone.

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.

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

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