When You Don’t Like Your Teen’s Dating Choice
Someone asked me recently what to do when you don’t like your teenage son or daughter’s boyfriend/girlfriend. It’s definitely a tricky subject. While as parents we don’t want to watch our kids blindly stumble through life, making wrong choice after wrong choice, when we, with our gifts of objectivity, perspective, and experience, can help them out, the reality is, there’s not much we can do in situations like this. Ultimately, the decision of whom to date is the sole responsibility of our kids (unless you belong to a culture where the parents take full responsibility for their children’s dating…but if that were the case, we wouldn’t be having this conversation anyway). Here are some thoughts on how to proceed…
Start off by having a gentle conversation with your teen about what you see happening. If you have run-of-the-mill concerns because you think the (let’s assume you have a daughter with a boyfriend) boyfriend is too needy, too selfish, too impolite, too whatever, coming right out and saying that you think he’s a jerk is automatically going to turn your daughter off. Here’s the catch: it will still turn her off even if she secretly agrees with you. She is committed to not having you know and be right about everything at this point in her life, so she’s not going to readily admit that you’ve got a point if you come at her with both guns blazing. It’s a matter of principle.
Instead, let her know in a respectful and gentle way that you have some concerns, and that you want to make sure that she’s ok. Approaching her from a position of concern and love is going to be better received than from a position of animosity, frustration, or defensiveness. Your messages of love and concern may still be met with hostility from your teen. That’s ok; you tried. Let it go at this point. You can make gentle statements of acknowledgement of what’s happening, without sliding into sarcasm or lectures, from now on, just to let her know that you still have her on your radar and that you haven’t washed your hands of her relationship. In a sense, you’re agreeing to disagree. This will be important to her if she decides in the future that she wants to remove herself from the relationship, because now she knows that you’ll still be there for her to talk to, without judgment or “I told you so”.
Some examples of this kind of acknowledgement might be
You are a really great friend to (give up your free afternoon/tutor him/help him clean out the garage).
He’s lucky to have you to support him during (the loss of his grandmother/tough exam time/his parents’ divorce).
I’m here if you need me, and I know you’re a smart cookie who can decide what’s best for her
I love you no matter what.
What if you think your daughter may be the recipient of abuse at the hands of her boyfriend? Ahh, that’s a different kettle of fish. This situation causes parents to hit the panic button — and rightly so. It’s important to tread carefully here, though, because you don’t want to inadvertently push her away from you and closer to him. Abusers are fantastic at twisting facts and perceptions so that our girl doesn’t know which way is up, and worries that she’s too far in to be able to ask for help to get out. Embarrassment, fear, shame, and not wanting to disappoint can also be playing a factor.
It’s important for you to speak to someone with experience in this area (i.e. a counsellor or psychologist, family doctor, or an expert in helping girls in abusive relationships), as it’s a complicated and dangerous situation — there’s more to know than what I can cover here. Here are some thoughts on where to start. If you think that your daughter is being mistreated, tell her so. Be loving and willing to listen to her; sometimes it takes girls a while to wrap their minds around the fact that this guy who treats her so well at times is actually an abusive boyfriend. If you try to strong-arm her into listening to you and trusting you when she wants to believe something else, you’re now doing exactly the same thing to her that he is. Be loving, be supportive, check in with her every once in a while as to how she’s doing and if there’s anything she would like you to do for her. Read up on abusive teen relationships and know what additional supports are out there for her. Show her through your actions that you are not the controlling, demanding, emotionally-blackmailing type of person that her boyfriend is by offering her unconditional love and support, and get outside help for both of you when the time is right.
Here’s a resource for teens in abusive relationships: TEAR: Teens Experiencing Abusive Relationships
And here’s one for you as a parent: Dr Jill Murray, an expert in abusive relationships