As you may recall from your own teenage years, separating from one’s parents is a vital, and healthy, part of growing up. All well and good. But the question is this: as your daughters move away from YOU, who exactly are they moving TOWARDS? And more importantly, are those people taking them someplace you want them to go?
For various societal and biological reasons, teenage girls run a higher risk of achieving victim status than teenage boys. They are often conflict-avoiding “pleasers” and tend to be more trusting and nurturing in nature, which can put them in potentially hazardous situations. Add in the general physical superiority of boys, as well as a basic lack of life experience, and the combination can be a disaster waiting to happen. And happen it does, every day of the year, in every city in America, in every state of the union. Let’s break this down into two separate issues: “Danger From Others,” and “Danger From Themselves.”
Danger From Others
For teenage girls (and even for grown women), the primary “danger from others” will be from an abusive romantic relationship. This abuse can take many forms: verbal, psychological, physical, and even sexual. As if having this happen to your daughter wouldn’t be bad enough, there is an element that makes it even worse: chances are if it IS happening, she won’t alert you to it by wailing. In fact, odds are she will do everything in her power to keep you from finding out about it at all.
The reasons girls (and women) “stay” despite this treatment are complex and far-reaching. But in basic terms, once they have transferred their “love feelings” away from you and onto another person, that person then holds a power position in their lives. And with hormones raging, teenage girls often tend to love more than they think. So they stay because they love, and rationalize the abuse: it’s not so bad . . . my friends have it worse . . . it’s really my fault anyway . . . Odds are you believe this could never happen to YOUR daughter. Keep in mind that’s what every parent thinks.
So what can you do about this? For starters, remember the adage: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best way to avoid a bad situation is to never let it get started. If your daughter becomes interested in a boy, you should become interested in him too. Don’t let him be a stranger. Make sure he comes inside the house. Ask him about himself and about his family. Humanize him and he will have no choice but to humanize you — and your daughter. See what your gut tells you about this boy — and then follow it.
But let’s say it’s too late for that. Let’s say your daughter is seeing someone and on the surface it all seems okay. How can you tell that it’s not? The easy part would be the physical signs. If your daughter seems consistently upset, or unusually quiet, these are warning signs. If you discover bruises, that’s more than a warning sign: that’s evidence. You really must have zero tolerance for that. Don’t be surprised if she explains it all away — she fell, or got hit with a basketball at school, or walked into a ladder, etc., etc., etc. Under NO circumstances can you take her word for it. Ask her specifics. Where did it happen? How did it happen? Who was there? You want witnesses. And if she gives them to you, call them and ask. If there were no witnesses to call, make her tell her story again and again to see if she changes it at all. That’s how the police determine responsibility. It will work for you, too.
All the while this is going on, it’s vital you do not alienate your daughter. She will not want to “give up” her boyfriend. Keep reassuring her that you love her and this is not about punishing the boy. That they both need some help and that it’s okay . . . they will get it. You just need to know the truth. Odds are you will get it!
Danger From Themselves
While it’s easier to presume that the greatest dangers to our daughters would be external, the more insidious would be the internal dangers: those brought on by our daughters themselves. While their adolescence may figuratively drive you crazy, keep in mind it may do the same to them — literally. Chemical imbalances, peer pressure, body image, school trouble, boy trouble, hormones — these can all lead to some self-destructive behaviors. These include (but are not limited to):
* Marijuana smoking
* “Harder” drugs including amphetamines, cocaine, Ecstasy, opiates, methamphetamine, and the abuse of prescription meds
* Cigarette smoking
* Inhalants for “huffing” (think “glue sniffing”)
Keep in mind that if you have any abuse issues in your family, your offspring are at a higher risk.
Again, look for the warning signs. These can include erratic (more erratic than usual, even) behavior, a drop in grades, loss of appetite, weight loss, a change in friends, and more/less sleep. Keep track of your belongings, too, as the prescription drugs she may be abusing could very well be yours. Missing money is another sign since drugs and alcohol are expensive and allowance was never meant to cover those!
Regardless of the challenges facing your daughter (and therefore you) do remember to keep them closer than ever before. Do not blame them for what they are going through. How you deal with them in times of trouble could very well impact your relationship with them for the rest of your lives. So even when it’s hard, try to remember the little girl who wailed for you. She’s still doing it, just in a different way, and through love (and some patience) you can find a way to make everything all right for her again. Just like the olden days. Yes it’s tougher to resolve than a skinned knee. But together you handled that then, and together you can handle this now.
Copyright © 2009 Joanne Kimes and R.J. Colleary with Rebecca Rutledge, PhD, authors of Teenagers Suck: What to do when missed curfews, texting, and “Mom can I have the keys?” make you miserable
Author Bios for Teenagers Suck: What to do when missed curfews, texting, and “Mom can I have the keys?” make you miserable
Joanne Kimes has written for a number of children’s and comedy television shows. This is her eleventh Sucks book. She lives in Studio City, CA.
R.J. Colleary attended Emerson College and moved to L.A. to become a writer for shows such as Saved by the Bell, The Golden Girls, and Benson. He teaches writing to graduate students at Chapman University and works steadily as a playwright. He has survived two teenagers and is currently surviving one more at home in Sherman Oaks, CA.
Rebecca Rutledge, PhD is a clinical psychologist who specializes in family therapy and individual therapy for children and adolescents. She writes columns for Your Health, Memphis Women’s Journal, and the Shelby Sun Times, and lives in Memphis, TN.