Bad Advice for Parents with Teenage Daughters

What a difference a day can make.
Yesterday it was the inspiring strawberry patch mamas.
Today, the beer-drinking, trash-talking, beach dad.

Lake levels are up 2+ feet this year so the beach is crowded. We stake out our little postage stamp parcel and set down our blanket and beach chair. It’s not just the rhythm of the waves and the squawking of the seagulls, I’m hearing the conversations around me in stereo too.

Right behind us, there’s a nice little family. Daddy walks hand in hand with his princess. She’s maybe 2, dripping wet and giggling with excitement at her swimming adventure. Mama follows behind, moving slower, carrying a bowling ball in her belly. They dry off and position themselves on their beach towels to enjoy a snack. There’s a whole posse of 50-something couples at 2:00, lounging behind them, cold beers in their cupholders, waxing eloquent on baseball, stock portfolios and the best restaurants in Chicago. One of those loud mouthed dudes notices the quiet family eating their fruit snacks and feels compelled to advise little princess’ daddy on how to raise daughters.

He seems to think he’s both incredibly smart and extremely witty. His conversation starter is classic.
“Just wait until she’s a teenager.”
That’s encouraging!
“Here’s what you need to do. Show her date your gun cabinet and tell him you’re not afraid to use them.”He went on an on ad nauseum about guns and boyfriends and a comprehensive strategy for establishing a solid power differential with any guy his daughter likes, seemingly convinced that made him a successful father.

I chewed my gum vigorously to keep my mouth busy so that I wouldn’t turn around and interrupt Mr. Know-It-All’s monologue and tell that naive young dad, “Don’t be that kind of jerk!”

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve made our own laundry list of parenting “oopsies”, but thankfully, not this one.

I get it. Teenage guys who are crushing on our daughters scare the bejeebies out of us. Truth. We know how gullible our girls can be and we don’t want them to get hurt. For dads like the beach dude, powering up at the gun cabinet might give them an illusion of control but ultimately that strategy backfires. So, my thought is, pick your battles shrewdly when your daughter’s heart, safety and sexual integrity are at stake. Think of it like a game of rock, paper, scissors. Your gun is not going to beat your kid’s affection. And it isn’t going to give you any opportunity for relational influence in her boo’s life either.fullsizeoutput_90d3

Maybe there’s a better way….
If a guy is important to our daughter, shouldn’t he matter to us too?
What if we embraced our opportunity to impact our daughter’s BF’s life for good through our words and by our example?
What if we help him cast a vision for becoming a young man of honor and responsibility and integrity?
Our role might be super small and incredibly time limited or we could be laying a foundation for a long term relationship with the man our kid covenants to share her life with. Whichever it is, I’d hate to squander my opportunity to invest well in his story.

Here’s are some universal truths about human nature:
-We generally aspire toward other’s expectations of us. If you treat somebody like he’s a thug, why should he act any differently? Affirming a person’s strengths and assuring him of your confidence is motivational.

– Respect is a widespread core need. If that’s how you want to be treated, why wouldn’t he? Which would you respond better to, a passive aggressive lecture including a tour of a father’s gun cabinet; or, a conversation with a girl’s dad where he expresses genuine interest in you as a person, where he asks reflective questions about why you like his daughter and what your plan is for treating her with care and respect when you’re together?

-Fear tactics and micromanaging behaviors don’t conform the motivation of a person’s heart. In your daughter’s dating relationship, you can’t set up a rule playbook that doesn’t have loopholes, or chaperone your kid and her boyfriend 100% of the time, even if you’re the Duggars. Another way to support sexual boundaries between your daughter and her boyfriend might be to encourage them to hang out with you, eat dinner around your table, watch movies in your family room, talk until curfew on your porch swing, and that ain’t going to happen if you’re intimidating, threatening or playing the bully.

Everybody has their own style of relating, customized for their family. Here’s a snapshot of how these convictions have played out in ours. My husband was gone on an extended business trip and our girl wanted to go somewhere with a guy she liked.
“He’ll have to talk to me first before driving you anywhere.” I told her.
“You’ve got to have “the talk” with my mom before I can go,”I heard her tell him on the phone.
We met in the park where I dropped her off that afternoon. He sat across from me at a picnic table and our conversation went something like this:
“Generally, I only let my kids ride with other teenagers that I know and trust. I don’t know you very well yet, but my daughter tells me you’re responsible, cautious and loyal. I’ve decided that based on my daughter’s character reference and your driving record I will let her ride with you as long as we’re on the same page about rules for safe driving. Here’s what I’m expecting of you:
I expect you to obey traffic laws, including the speed limit.
I expect you to focus on driving without the distraction of your phone.
I expect you to drive sober.
Are we agreed on those expectations?”
“Yes, I’ll do my best to drive safely with her,”he responded sincerely.
“Great. I believe that you will. Take care of my precious cargo and have a great time!”

And he has—both driven safely and had a great time. Since then, he’s become a “regular” around our house, one of the pack. Our relationship has been built on mutual respect and we’ve dialogued about all sorts of interesting, controversial and deep topics. My gut tells me that if we’d employed scare tactics at the starting gate, the relational dynamic would look really different and we’d all have missed out on something valuable.

So, back to the guy on the beach. I sat quiet like I was minding my own business. But inside, I admit it, I was giving that dad a piece of my mind.
“Grow up, dude.”
“Oh, and I’ll pass on your semi-intoxicated parenting advice, too, but thanks anyway.”

Disclaimer: Disregard everything I just said if your daughter’s guy is a creeper, a stalker, a predator, someone who’s physically, sexually or emotionally harming her, or someone who doesn’t demonstrate any foreseeable potential, because that’s different and requires a more assertively protective response.

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