Q: My son keeps threatening to leave home whenever we argue. How can I deal with this issue?
A: Much like the young child who learns that throwing his toys around will get him out of a situation he doesn’t want to be in, your son may have figured out that threatening to leave home is a very effective way to end, and win, an argument. Playing on your anxieties about him not being able to cope and the strength of your feelings on the subject is the unbeatable ace up his sleeve. Rather than arguing that he is not ready to leave home or begging him to stay, try taking a different stand. Tell him that you don’t want him to go, but it’s his life and his decision.

Of course, you want to know that he will be safe and secure, so ask him to put together a budget and show you on paper how he will survive without your financial support. In the heat of the moment your son may genuinely feel that moving out is an easy option, but confronting the reality of how much it will cost should reduce his enthusiasm for leaving home. In this cooling-off period, avoid the temptation to turn the tables and make him feel like your financial power gives you control, since this will only serve to push him away all the sooner. Put the argument behind you and let him know you are glad that he has decided to stay.

Q: My son wants to stay at home with his friends when we go away for the weekend. Good idea?
A: Sooner or later all teenagers vote with their feet and most will opt to be somewhere else rather than spend time with their parents if given the choice. However, staying home alone overnight is a big step, and you need to know that your son is ready for this responsibility (and, more importantly, that he won’t have a wild house party in your absence!). Agree some clear house rules with him and give him at least one opportunity to prove he can follow these by staying out somewhere local, so you can return home quickly if you need to. If you decide your son is independent and mature enough to handle this, make sure he has plenty of easy-to-prepare food available to avoid any cooking accidents, and a list of emergency contacts just in case. Call and check in with him at agreed times, and try not to use up your text allowance in between phone calls or he won’t feel independent at all.

If you don’t feel the time is right, you can either drag him along on your break—which may not make for a pleasant time for anyone—or perhaps arrange for him to stay with a friend to soften the blow, and agree to review the issue soon.

Q: My daughter just uttered the three words every mother dreads to hear: “Mom, I’m pregnant!”
A: This is probably not the news you wanted to hear for several years yet, with thoughts of being a grandparent reserved for the time when your daughter is in a happy, stable, long-term relationship. You may be feeling angry, disappointed, frustrated that all your warnings and good advice went unheeded, and sad for the loss of the hopes and dreams you had for your daughter. However, your daughter probably didn’t plan this, and she needs your support now more than ever. Remember how scary it was when you found out you were pregnant?

Try to stay calm so your daughter will feel she can talk to you. Your first thoughts may well turn to, “Who’s the father?” but be prepared for the fact that she may not want to say. Respect her wishes and concentrate your energies on supporting her through the current situation. Make sure your daughter has a checkup at the doctor, and try to open up a discussion about her options: keeping the baby, adoption, or termination. Offer to accompany her for moral support, but don’t insist: She may want this to be a private time for her to think about her choices. This may be one of the most difficult conversations you will ever have with her, and you may not agree with her choice. Whatever your daughter decides, she will need you with her every step of the way.

Q: My son shares a bed with his girlfriend at her house and now he wants her to sleep over. I just don’t think it’s right.
A: Being confronted by your teenager’s sexual maturity is difficult for any parent to deal with, and it may be easier to deny your son is in a physical relationship by adopting a policy of “Not under my roof.”

However, if you do take this stand then your son will simply spend more time staying at his girlfriend’s, or may even have sex in risky and less comfortable places, such as in a car or in the park. Before making a decision, it may be worth talking to other parents to see what their thoughts on the issue are. As difficult as it may be for you to say “yes” to his request, there are certain advantages. For example, you will know where he is and who he is with, and it will give you some leverage in discussing issues such as safe sex and also potentially risky behaviors.

The fact that your son is asking for his girlfriend to stay over also suggests that he may want you to build some sort of relationship with her, which is no small step for anyone. You could suggest a compromise: Allowing them to sleep over but in separate bedrooms. Either way, this does not mean that you have to turn over your house to the happy couple. Set some clear limits and rules on things such as curfews and minimum required clothing to avoid anyone feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed. If you feel you just can’t agree to your son’s request, take the time to explain your reasons rather than simply refusing. The landscape of sexual behavior has changed significantly over the last few decades. You do not have to agree with your son’s behavior but try to respect his choice as he must respect yours.

Q: My 15-year-old daughter’s new boyfriend is more than twice her age. What can I do?
A: Your daughter probably feels very flattered by the attentions of an older man who treats her like an adult and buys her things that boyfriends of her age simply can’t compete with. However, the thrill of this relationship may be blinding your daughter to his true intentions, and she needs you to keep her safe and protect her from being exploited. Speak to them both individually and try to remain calm, since you risk pushing her closer to this man if you lose your cool. Ask him whether he realizes your daughter is underage as she may have tried to appear more mature and lied about being 15 or at least kept it quiet. If he is aware of this or doesn’t seem bothered, you may want to check whether he is known to the police, and tell him that you will do so.

The bottom line is that you need to ask this man to stay away from your daughter. She may not want to hear what you have to say and may well accuse you of interfering and deliberately ruining her life (again). However, you need to explain your concerns and help her to see how inappropriate and potentially risky the relationship is. What would she think if you began dating one of her friends? Your daughter is unlikely to be thankful for your intervention right now, but one day she will look back and breathe a big sigh of relief that you were looking out for her.

Q: My daughter wants to go on vacation with her friends. Should I let her go?
A: The prospect of going on a trip without their parents is a real watershed moment for any teenager, and is likely to push your anxiety and your daughter’s excitement levels through the roof. Before your protective instincts kick in and you give a firm and flat “No!” to her request, find out exactly what is being planned. Ask who is going; where they are heading; what the accommodation is like; how they will get there, and so on. If you don’t know all of your daughter’s friends, ask her to invite them over so you can meet them and see how they get on as a group.

Speak to the other parents to check out their thoughts too. You are bound to have a long list of concerns about vacation temptations and possible risks to your daughter’s welfare. Work through these together and agree how she will manage each of them. Set clear boundaries on smoking, drinking, and sex and get a verbal commitment from your daughter that she will stick to them. There is no guarantee that she will stick to this agreement, but making a promise out loud and face to face will certainly make it more likely. Ultimately, you need to decide if your daughter is mature and responsible enough to look after herself, which may mean giving her an opportunity to prove it to you.

Communicating with your teenager

Good communication is the cornerstone of any strong relationship. As your teenager gets older and enjoys greater freedom and independence, you will come to rely on your communication skills all the more to help you stay in touch with her life. You have spent years talking to your child, but the head down, no eye contact, one-word answers, shoulder shrugging approach to communication practiced by some teenagers can make it difficult. Consider the following ideas to help you keep conversation flowing.

  • Listen attentively to your teenager when she speaks—don’t just talk at her.

  • Ask questions, but remember her privacy is important: She won’t share everything with you.

  • If you are having to say “No,” always explain your reasons why.

  • Work on solutions to problems together—ask for her ideas and opinions.

  • Talk when she is ready and try to use open questions (who/what/when/where/why/how?) as it is harder to give yes/no or short answers to these.

  • Be positive and try to avoid being critical.

  • Don’t forget to praise whenever you can.

Not my baby anymore Overprotective?

I thought when my daughter became a teenager I’d be less protective. I willed myself to let go, but whenever I looked at her I saw my little girl, not the “almost woman” I knew she was. The tide turned one day when I was out shopping and noticed her with some friends across the street. She stood there, happily chatting, tall and confident, and I saw one of the group giving her a very admiring look. In an instant it was as if I saw her through the eyes of a stranger, and I got such a clear perspective. There was a girl who appeared the image of self-assurance; friendly, yet in control of the situation.

Since then, I remember that vision of her whenever I’m tempted to treat her like a child. It’s helped me to see how far she’s come and what a credit she is to me.

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