daughter dating guys met on Internet
First I want to say that I have read Dr. Bradley's book, "Yes, Your Teen is Crazy" and think it is one of the most helpful resources I have found for parents of teens. I have recommended it to several friends. However, I am struggling with a situation that isn't exactly covered in the book and I would like to get some other viewpoints. My concern is about the guys my daughter is dating.
My 16 year old daughter has always been strong-willed and challenging. Three years ago her dad (my husband) died of cancer. She never wanted to talk to a grief counselor, but I think the loss my be influencing some of her behavior. About two years ago she became obsessed with having a boyfriend. For the past year, she has been meeting a lot of guys on the Internet. She has had some on-line relationships that have lasted several months, but when she meets guys in person, she usually just dates them for a couple weeks before moving on to someone new. I have tried to enforce a rule that she can only date high school students, but sometimes it is hard to be sure. She has sometimes snuck out with guys that I haven't met. She told me that the guy she is dating now was a high school senior, but I found out he is really 28! He looks a lot younger, lives with his mom and is very polite and responsible. After talking to both of them about my concerns over their age difference, I said that I wouldn't try to keep them from seeing each other as long as I believed that my daughter was safe when they were together. So far, I do.
I wonder if I am just being a wimp by not insisting that they stop dating. I really don't expect the relationship to last much longer. While my daughter looks older than 16, she is not very mature emotionally. I worry most about who she will find next. I also worry about how far she is willing to go to attract and hold on to guys. I don't think that she is "sexually active" in the sense of having intercourse, but she is very physically affectionate -- hugging, kissing, making out. She doesn't tell me much, and I can't believe much of what she does say.
I guess I wonder if I should take a stronger stand -- cut off Internet use, ground her if she goes out with someone I haven't met, etc. -- or if I should stay with my current approach of trying to keep track of "who, where and when" but otherwise let her make her own choices about who she dates.
I would appreciate any suggestions.
Talk about a tough problem! Yes, it is a possibility that your daughter is seeking a boyfriend-daddy after going through that terrible loss. It sounds like you've been doing a great job, holding back your urge to just control your kid with ultimatums, and instead trying to help her work through this difficult stage. If you did the drill sergeant routine, you might have pushed your strong-willed daughter into a bad place (like running away with Mr. Wonderful).
That being said, I think your other instincts to "pull in the reins" a bit are timely. 28 and 16 just don't match up. There's danger here for both your daughter and the boyfriend. Neither of them should want that type of relationship. He might be a wonderful guy, but know that some not-so-wonderful guys his age like to prey on teen girls. It's a new-age game that's become popular.
The idea is to not make a martyr out of her current love, but to set up some fences to keep her safe. Use her lying about his age as your excuse. Let her know that lying suggests that she's not quite ready for that level of freedom to independently date a 28-year-old. Let him be welcome to visit in your home or go out with your family. But given all the factors you note, it's time to get a little more restrictive given the possible risk to your kid. Also let her know that sneaking out to meet internet dates is so risky that if it recurs you might have to shut down the computer for a few weeks until she learns better how to handle herself.
I worry that something is going on with her, possibly related to losing dad. See if she's willing to see a counselor. Tell her that you're worried that you could be overreacting with these new restrictions you're putting on her, and perhaps you both should sit down with a shrink to work it through. But set it up so she gets to see the counselor alone as well. Beyond all else, do what you've apparently been doing---keep talking calmly and lovingly to her (particularly when you want to yell and scream).
Good luck, and please keep us posted on how things go.
Attention parents of daughters: Any thoughts?
Dr. Mike Bradley
Thanks for the advice
Thank you for your timely reply to my posting. I really appreciate your suggestions. Your advice makes a lot of sense to me. I will work on it.
I am also interested in hearing from any other parents with similar experiences.
I would like to start by telling Dr. Bradley how much encouragement I find in his responses to questions (not just mine) on this forum. It really helps me remember to STAY CALM, not to feel that all the problems are my fault, and not to give up in despair over all my past mistakes.
I am writing this message as an update on developments since I posted my first message. Apparently the 28 year-old boyfriend is losing interest. They still talk on the phone, but not regularly, and they haven't seen each other in a couple of weeks.
I closed my daughter's Internet account for a week and a half, telling her that I would not continue providing the means for her to hook up with older men. In the meantime, I bought and installed software to monitor her emails and instant messages. I told her I installed it before I restored her account. I also told her that I would intervene if I suspected she was planning to see any of the guys she met online without letting me meet them first.
The monitoring software is very effective. It is amazing what I can find out. The problem is that I am not sure what to do with the information. Since my daughter knows that I am checking, she has been very careful, as I expected. However, even so, from the messages she has received, I have discovered that she has been telling guys that she is 18 (she is really still 16), that she has been having "cybersex" and that she may also have physically had sex with one or more of the guys she talks to on line. While I suspect that they talk sex more than they do it, the talk is very explicit.
Although I believe that the monitoring software can be a helpful tool for keeping my daughter safer, it certainly does not teach her to make better choices. I fear that she is getting sucked into some very unhealthy relationships, and I don't know how to stop it.
You've done the policing part to make your kid temporarily safer. Now comes the long-term fix part.
As you noted, controlling her 'Net activities doesn't teach her anything except how to get around your controls. It's critical to now get her thinking about what all of this means to her. She must start to get some insight into why she does what she does. Start by having short conversations with her. Promise her that you will provide no lectures and no punishments for anything she tells you if she can open up and chat a bit about what this 'Net stuff is really about. See if she can talk, and see if you can listen to her without talking. She must now hear herself in order to learn about her dangerous behavior, and get control over it.
If you're unsuccessful, get to the shrink's office. But, above all, let her know that you love her and are scared for her. Keep the anger out of the conversations. It will only distract her from herself.
Good luck, and please continue to keep us all posted.
Dr. Mike Bradley
update on situation
This is an update after a little more than a year has passed. About a month after my last posting my daughter met a nice guy only two years older than her at a local rock concert. They went together all last summer and through her senior year. He was steady and affectionate with her and polite and respectfully with me. They spent a lot of time together at our house and it was the most family time we have had together since her dad died. I felt as though my prayers for her had been answered. Then he broke up with her a couple weeks after graduation. First she was withdrawn and spent a lot of time writing, which seemed like a healthy way to process her feelings. Then about a week later (the night before her 18th birthday) she went out with a girl friend and didn’t come home until 3 am. The next day she told me she had a new boyfriend. She has been with him almost every day since then, except when she is working. She has only brought him to our house two or three times for a few minutes at a time. She told me he is 23 years old and that he did construction work, although he never seems to be at work and he doesn’t have a driver’s license. I know he smokes and drinks beer because I have seen both in her car.
He lives with an aunt and uncle about 20 miles from our home. She is now spending most nights over there and only comes home occasionally for showers and a change of clothes. It seems as though in one night, she not only found a replacement boyfriend, but a replacement home, family, circle of friends, and life style.
In three weeks, she is supposed to leave for college at a state university about four hours drive from here. I had hoped that it would give her an opportunity for a fresh start, but it seems that she has already “left home” and chosen a different life for herself. I am trying to stay calm and to be as pleasant as possible on the rare occasions when I do see her. However, we did have a nasty confrontation the other night when I discovered that she had been letting him borrow her car (which is actually still in my name) while she was working.
In spite of trying for the past five years, I have never been able to get her to see a counselor, although I am seeing one for myself. At this point I feel that either everything I am doing is wrong or nothing that I do makes any difference. Now that she is 18, is there anything that I still can do?
Now is the time for that superhuman, loving patience for which you will be rewarded in your golden years. Those will be the years when your daughter realizes how hard she was on you, and how patient and loving you remained. The fact is that with your daughter being 18, you have few other workable options.
The good news is that she does have college lined up, and this will likely provide great contrasts to her present Mr. Wonderful.
Keep telling her that you love and miss her, and are very worried about her choices, but that she is always welcome back in your home. Be as calm as possible so that you give her no excuses to avoid you further. Trust in the parenting you and your husband did (before his death). Understand that she is likely still working out that terrible loss, and in time will come back to you.
In the meantime, perhaps focus on yourself in counseling, on refocusing your own life in positive directions to distract from your worry about your daughter.
Please keep us posted.
Dr. Mike Bradley