What do you do if your once wonderful son or daughter is now dating someone you can’t stand?
This is a question I get from parents of the teenagers I work with ALL THE TIME.
There are so many instances of parents doing everything to raise a wonderful adolescent, and then dating begins. At first most parents are a bit uneasy, but still happy for their child. After all, what parent doesn’t feel great about knowing their son or daughter is wanted? However, time goes by and you realize your child is not being very respectful. In what seems like the blink of an eye the primary influence in their life is this significant other. Suddenly you realize your teenager is in way too serious of a relationship. On top of that, it’s not someone you’d choose for your child for all the money in the world.
Dear parents, you’re up against something very difficult. I think the most important piece of advice I give parents in this situation is not to create unenforceable consequences. You can’t tell your child who they will and won’t call their boyfriend or girlfriend. The reason you can’t do this is that they’ll just lie to you. While you might forbid it at home, you don’t control what happens at school. Short of pulling them out of school and keeping them with you 24/7, they still might see Mr. or Miss Wrong.
Here’s what you can do though. You can decide what you will and won’t support. You can let your teenager know you don’t support their dating so and so. Make sure you give the reasons why. Don’t criticize the person they are dating. Instead make sure to talk about what scares you. If your daughter is dating a boy who smokes pot all the time, let her know you’re afraid she will gain more and more friends who smoke, and therefore spend less and less time with highly motivated kids. You’re also afraid she’ll begin to use it too.
Another part of not supporting something is giving it zero financial support. One mom I’ve helped doesn’t allow her daughter to drive the car except for work and school as long as she’s dating a certain boy. This boy is very, very bad for the daughter, so the mom doesn’t want to provide them a way to see one another. She knows she can’t completely forbid it, but she can make it really difficult. Some parents won’t give money for any extras. I’ve seen parents be quite creative…and effective.
When your child begins to pull away from you because they are dating someone who is getting them into things they shouldn’t, or getting them out of things they should be doing, it’s heartbreaking. It’s also very frustrating. Most teens are still willing to listen to reason, but some will refuse to heed your advice. In those cases please don’t passively stand by. This ends up having the effect of condoning the bad relationship. Hold to your morals, and require your teenager to do the same in your presence. Also recall that either you or many of your friends dated a loser in middle school or high school, but you got through it. I know this was true with me.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT