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Dear Christine, Parenting in Pontiac

| July 3, 2017

Dear Christine,

My partner and I have 3 kids and the oldest, a girl, just tuned 13. We are worried that she’s hanging out with the wrong crowdolder kids. She has become secretive, we’ve caught her in lies (nothing major) and she has a boyfriend. Short of locking her in the house until she’s 21, we are unsure how to handle this. We’ve tried to have the drug talk, the sex talk and she just gets mad and embarrassed and says she’s would never do that.

Thanks, Parenting in Pontiac

Dear Parenting,

You have a tough job. What is most important is to keep communication channels up with your daughter and stay active in her life and keep her involved with both of you and other family and friends. Focus on her interests and hobbies, even if they aren’t your preference. Get to know her friends, meet her boyfriend, make your home the place where kids like hanging out, so you can get to know them and you can observe dynamics and relationships.

Give your daughter room to rebel safely. When she wants a style of hair or clothes that you don’t like, give her room to make those decisions. If what she wants doesn’t put her at risk and she doesn’t like the results, she will get to learn about how to make good decisions. We all learn from the School of Hard Knocks and the consequences at 13 are usually less severe than at 23 or 33.

It’s important to talk about boundaries and discipline. Your daughter is growing up and wanting more freedom, that comes with responsibility. Every choice has a consequence and teen brains are not developed in the frontal lobe capabilities to see these consequences. They have a lot of hormones surging, they have many new and intense feelings. Teens may not be very clear on what they are feeling and probably won’t be able to put those feelings into words. When setting boundaries, have a family meeting and ask your daughter what she thinks should be the consequence should be for an infraction. She may well come up with much more severe ramifications than you would. It will give her some ownership of the new responsibilities and allow you to soften her harder punishments. Set up a way for her to earn her way back into good graces if she does make a bad choice. Say she lies to you and tells you she didn’t smoke a cigarette, but you have evidence that she did. A serious infraction. The consequence might be that she can’t go to the Homecoming Dance at school next week. But if that is incredibly devastating to her, you could create some chores or challenges for her to complete before the dance, so she can earn her way back into good graces and also get to do something that is socially and emotionally important to her.

Teens find emotional safety in knowing there are limits and expectations. One 30 year old woman once told me that she did exactly what was expected of her when she was a teen after her mother died. Her father told her he expected her to come home every night and she was to graduate High School. So she did those two things, but also stayed out very late with her friends and boyfriend, having sex, doing drugs and drinking alcohol, and she got Ds in all her classes, just barely graduating. As an adult, she spoke of how she wished her dad had expected more of her. All that freedom seemed like the best life then, but later, she realized that she was not guided at a time she needed it.

Parents talking about drugs and sex with teens is fraught with embarrassment all around. It’s still important to keep talking about these things. If you see unexplained changes in your daughter’s behavior, grades and friends or see cough medication packaging in her garbage or back pack, or find medicine missing from the cabinet, take these signs seriously. If you are concerned, it’s ok to take her to a doctor to get her on Norplant or some other long term birth control and it’s ok to insist on home drug tests. Those may be extreme, but they will give you feedback about what your daughter is doing.

Consider family counseling to learn communication techniques if you are running into roadblocks on your own. And good luck. Write again with further questions or an update and take care. Christine Cantrell, PhD,


Christine C. Cantrell, PhD
1026 W. 11 Mile Rd,
Suite C
Royal Oak, MI 48067

Click here to email Christine.

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