Parenting Teens and Boundary Issues

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Reader’s Question

I have a 16-year-old daughter who by every account is dating a loser. They have been together for about 17 months, and he has made her completely dependent on him. My daughter and I are very close and open, but lately I feel her pulling away. I try and support her no matter what, but it is so difficult to see your daughter mistreated and not say anything. They discuss marriage, and I am so frightened that she will leave as soon as she can, even though she says she won’t. This is her first relationship but hopefully not her last. She is upset almost every day, and it is ruining her high school years. Please tell me how I can best help her.

Psychologist’s Reply

Your 16-year-old daughter is in a relationship that is 17 months old. This pencils out to her having started this relationship when she was just about 14 1/2 years old. That is really young to have a boyfriend in my view. You mention that you are “very close and open” and that you “try and support her no matter what”. Well, here is the problem. Would you really support her no matter what? She is a child, albeit she is on her way to young adulthood, but she needs you to be her mother, not her BFF. She needs your guidance, not your unconditional support.

Would you be supportive of her venturing into experimenting with methamphetamine? Probably not. Because she is only 16, she is not yet capable of making all of her own decisions. Let’s set neuroscience aside, and the research illustrating that the development of the pre-frontal cortex is not yet achieved until at least the early 20s (this part of the brain being responsible for good judgment — little things like not driving 150 miles an hour while drinking a six-pack of beer); she was simply too young to have been allowed a romantic relationship at 14, and at 16, she is still too young to be entertaining ideas about marriage.

Take your proper role as a parent, since I am unsure of what her father’s role in all this may be, and let her know that you want her to focus on her schooling, not thumbing through the latest edition of Modern Bride. Let her know that there are repercussions to her actions and decisions, and that since she seems to be making less than ideal decisions now, you are going to make them for her. Start with pointing her to her education and not her boyfriend. And Mom, you are not her friend! You are her mother. Kids need moms, they have plenty of friends at school. Let her look to you for the boundaries that she is too young and inexperienced to make herself. She will love you more for it in the final analysis, believe me!

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