"How to tell our 14 year old that she is too young to date?"
My 14 year old daughter has been on the Internet talking to this boy that lives in our town. Come to find out they have been writing letters back and forth for a while now. My wife and I have told her she is too young to date right now, to wait until she is at least 16. We found some letters that he wrote to her (he is 16). He says he can't wait to lie on top of her. My question is how do we confront her about this without alienating her. She has always been upfront and honest with us until now. As far as we know she has not gone out on a date with him unless she did it when she spends the night with one of her friends. We have always trusted her and don't want to stop now but don't know what to do?
Hi - Besides love, the major part of being a parent means being a good teacher, and setting firm boundaries. Kids desperately need boundaries, and they need to know that those boundaries are enforced. Otherwise, life is too overwhelming, too unsafe, and threatening. If there are no boundaries, or those boundaries are not enforced, children get the clear message that there are no consequences to their actions. If a parent does not have the where with all to set firm boundaries because of THEIR OWN fear that their child won't "like them", or will become alienated, then that parent is actually hurting their child... due to their own fears. That is not serving your child, or being the parent. Your child is not a friend. Your child is your child. And what a child needs most from a parent is loving, clear communication and secure boundaries that will teach him or her how to get through life safely and successfully. That doesn't mean that your child and yourself can't have a lovely and loving relationship. But keeping your child safe, and teaching what is appropriate or inappropriate in life IS loving your child. If you don't, guess what? Your child will become alienated anyway, as they will, in all likelihood, end up disrespecting you. They will see that they can manipulate you like crazy, and they will turn into spoiled, manipulative, selfish, uncaring, and dysfunctional people.
I've seen it happen time and time again, where the parent thinks that they are being a "good" parent by excusing the actions of their child for this or that, ("Oh well. Kids will be kids") or not setting firm boundaries, or wanting to be the friend to their child, so afraid themselves that they won't be loved, and what results is awful: an undisciplined kid whose behaviors are socially unacceptable and disrespectful, sometimes even harmful, to self or others. If YOUR fear of alienating your child comes first before the welfare of your child - if it comes first before teaching your child how life works and that consequences will result from their actions, then you are really doing that child an immense disservice.
What if a parent is so afraid of alienating a child, so unable to discipline, set, and enforce boundaries, that they don't do anything when a child shoplifts. So, the child grows up thinking he or she can steal with impunity, without there being any consequences. Well, guess what happens later on in life? If that child ends up in jail, because they stole, and there ARE consequences for stealing, who didn't do their job? Or, what if you allow your child to hit you, or say, mouth off at you, or scream whenever they feel like it, and there are no consequences? When that child goes off to school and hits another child, or mouths off, he or she's going to get hit back, right, or at the least be ostracized and disliked by the others. There are consequences to our actions, and if a parent does not teach this in a very firm and clear way, then your child is in deep trouble. And we can learn to teach well, in ways that feel authentic, so that the child can hear it, and gets it, and doesn't feel preached at, or belittled, or demeaned, or lectured. That's a great and tremendous challenge in itself. We learn a lot about ourselves by seeing how we teach, or communicate, with others.
Often parents make the mistake that they think that it means their child is "bad" or Oh my God, not perfect, if that child needs discipline in a certain area - and they can't bear to see their child as anything but perfect. This is their own ego needs talking when that happens, by the way - needing a child to be oh so perfect in their eyes. Or they think that by disciplining their child, they are criticizing that child and therefore hurting or betraying him or her. Neither one of those is true. We do not want to criticize, shame, blame, or belittle a child, for that is destructive, but neither can we turn a blind eye when a child does something that is either dangerous, offensive, or inappropriate, to self or others. Going into denial and excusing one's child is a dangerous and harmful thing to do. A parent may think, blindly, that their child is perfect, but we all live in glass houses, and to the rest of the world, if that child has become spoiled or overly indulged, with troubled or offensive behaviors, it's VERY obvious to all - except, perhaps, the doting parent. ALL children need guidance, and ALL children will do things that require boundaries, and ALL will get into trouble of one sort or another and have to be called on it, and be held fully accountable and responsible for their actions. And ALL have lessons that need to be learned.
So, do you worry about whether or not your child will like you? This is actually YOU acting like a child yourself, YOUR inner child operating, feeling insecure, worrying about being loved, about who will like you and who won't, right? Trust that you don't ever have to worry about your child loving you. That's already there. It's a given. Trust that. You can only lose your child's love if you are abusive in your behavior. Don't blow your child's well being by your own fears and therefore by an inability to do what is truly best for your child. You, yourself can remain the fearful child, afraid of losing love, or you can become the mature adult whose job is to teach your child to be a well adjusted, caring human being. There will be many moments that present themselves that are "teaching moments", and it is your responsibility to be a good teacher, to teach wisely, in a way that captures a child's interest and touches the heart and mind.
I invite you to firmly and strongly (but without anger or fear) confront your daughter. Tell her that you found the letters, and that you'd like to know what's been going on. Tell her that you value the honesty that has been between you thus far, and that it is a precious thing between people, but that trust is something that can easily be broken, and therefore it needs to be something kept safe and clear between you. Being a safe enough space so that your child can to speak honestly with you about what's been going on is crucial here. That means be clear and firm, but not critical, giving valuable guidance, as needed, and open to what they have to say. Ask her to speak honestly with you about what's been going on, because you have some concerns after reading a letter from this boy, without accusing her of anything. You don't know if anything more then simply writing letters has happened, and to imagine more is to let your own fears and fantasies run wild. You need to make sure that you are clear with her first, though, about how she sees writing him, because she may not see writing letters as dating or breaking the rules. Writing letters is not dating. So, you need to be clear with her what you include as to what is ok and what is off limits.
Writing to a friend who is a boy at 14 is not necessarily a bad thing, unless it becomes inappropriate - which it has, on his part. If you don't want her to write to boys, and you include that in your boundaries, be sure that that is clear to her. I personally don't see that that is harmful if it is kept in appropriate limits. At 14, boys and girls are discovering one another, and it is necessary to learn how to start relating to the opposite sex, in an appropriate way. She needs to know what is appropriate and what isn't, so that if, in relating to a boy, things become inappropriate, she has the where with all and knowledge to recognize it and remove herself from that relationship. So, let her know that it is not appropriate for a boy to say he wants to lie on top of her. That's a kind of pornography via the Internet. Perhaps what you need to do is sit down with her and ask her if she thinks that his saying that he can't wait to lie on top of her is appropriate. Does she even know what that means, and does she know what the consequences are of having sex with someone? If she doesn't, she needs to know. Does she know of any girls who have gotten pregnant, and what their lives are like? That's a great teaching right there. Nothing like seeing someone's difficult reality to clear things up. She may think that his relating this way is normal, as relating crudely to one another in our culture in this day and age is rampant. But she needs to know why his saying that is a danger - if this boy got her pregnant, does she know what her life would be like? Would he even care? Because he's basically saying he wants to have sex with her, but without any thought to her well being. And that's not a compliment. So she needs to not see it as one, and not be titillated or flattered by it. She needs to see it as a red flag, but to do that, she needs information.
So, as a parent you are your child's teacher, and we teach, not from lecturing or preaching, or yelling, but by calmly and clearly showing the consequences of choices and behaviors, and asking some thought provoking questions that children can take a look at, answer, and see for themselves what comes from what. We also set the safe boundaries they may not cross, and we enforce the consequences when those boundaries are disregarded. Give clear boundaries without being fanatical. Too strict boundaries create rebellion, but too lenient ones create chaos - so your job is to find the happy medium - what is reasonable and fair and safe. Be aware of not coming from fear, which will cloud your judgment. If something your child did has upset you, be honest about that, respond honestly, without intimidating the child, but with a clear and appropriate tone of voice and response to their behavior. Certain things are NOT acceptable, and your response and consequences must be appropriate.
Letting a child know ahead of time what a consequence will be if they do such and such takes it out of the realm of punishment, for they have been forewarned and know what to expect. It is a choice on their part to either follow or disregard the standard set for behavior. If they disregard the boundaries, then they know what the consequences will be. Then, make sure that YOU enforce the consequences as you said you would. Otherwise, you're not worth their respect, you're a pushover, in effect, and they again get the message that there will not be consequences to their actions.
Give her some clear, fair boundaries about what she may or may not do at a certain age while living in your home, and help her understand why such laws are in effect - how they are there to keep her safe. Let her be aware of the real consequences choices we make in our lives have, without overdoing it. Especially, give her clear guidelines about what is respectful behavior from a man to a woman, and what is disrespectful, abusive, and self gratifying behavior from a man to a woman. Let her know that she deserves to be respected and to be treated with dignity, and thoughtfulness. How would she feel if a man treated her mother disrespectfully? Crude is not where it's at. Helping her to see that for herself is part of the key here, and the challenge.