- Family and Parenting»
What to Do When Your Teen Daughter Starts Texting or Chatting With Older Men
Step 1. Breath! Then realize this is all NATURAL
I know I am probably going to get a lot of slack for this section, but seriously, all of what you and your daughter are going through right now, is completely natural. You can tell that it's natural, because your not the only one going through this. You don't have the only daughter texting, chatting with or sexting with guys or older men, nor will your daughter be the last.
It is natural for 13 to 18 year old girls to be attracted to guys who are slightly or largely older then they are, and it is just as natural for guys between 14 and 35 to be interested in girls who are between 13 and 18. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that it's right for these sort of 'relations' to commence, nor am I saying it should be acceptable. Though in my opinion, if we stop taking the perspective that this is some horrible atrocity and that our daughters are being possessed by dirty old men who are hell bent on kidnapping our daughters away in the night, we are able to keep more level heads about the situation, which enables us to function as better parents. The alternative is to let fear, anxiety and anger take over the space your conscious mind usually inhabits, which will only result in panic, anxiety, dramatics, overreactions and predictably - more rebellious behavior patterns from your teenage daughter.
So take a DEEP breath, take a few even, when you find out or suspect that your teen daughter is intimately texting or chatting with men. The bigger the age difference between your daughter and the guy she's communicating with, and the more breaths you'll probably want to take. Feel free to grab a paper bag and breath into it if it helps you come back down to reality.
Now, let's look at what else is natural about this situation:
- Teenage girls are often wrapped up in their own little fantasy about the world. They naturally imagine that they are put upon by everyone, especially their parents who they've imagined to be hostile authorities. They are naturally struggling through an identity crisis. They've started to realize that you and every other authority figure in their lives don't know everything and don't really have control over them anymore. Once they realize that they are actually in control of their own actions, they naturally feel even more lost, and that brings in the desire for them to find themselves. So they reach out and experiment. They try on some new clothes, play with make up or join a sports team. They research subjects they formerly thought to be taboo, and they start reaching out and communicating with people they would formerly have avoided with a 200 ft birth. For teen girls, these are times to taste every experience they can. They see the danger and they know that it won't go down with a spoon full of sugar, but they want to experience it anyway. This is all a NATURAL part of growing up, especially for young women. Just as when we were 2 and we bit you to see what you would do, or when we were 10 and we threw that tantrum of tears because you wouldn't buy us that toy we wanted, we have to test out all your boundaries, and this time, we want to test out life's boundaries as well as our own. In this particular situation, because teen girls are attracted to their fantasies, they reach out to the mysterious, the dark and the dangerous. They know what is safe, light and wholesome - you've provided them with that. Now it's time for an exploration of the opposite spectrum - which often includes reaching out to and/or accepting affection from men.
- Even if it weren't natural for your daughter to be attracted to the mystery, danger and allure of men who are significantly older then her, she'd still be naturally inclined to rebel against your power, and since she knows her dating, talking to or getting intimate with any guy is definitely on your no-no list, that's one of the things she's going to work hardest at doing. The more rebellious she naturally is, the larger the age gap will often be. Some girls will push the envelope as far as they can go with a guy in her peer group, while others will only do a very intimate things with a guy twice her age. Other girls might go further or not go there at all. It depends on their rebellious drive and the only hint as to what level of rebellion you'll get from her, depends on how rebellious her parents were. Be careful not to be deceived by these behaviors though. She hasn't just suddenly changed into this dangerous risk taking - trouble making pirate and she's likely not doing any of it consciously. She's actually less sure about her own behaviors then she'll ever let you know, so she's following her NATURAL drive (which is the path of least resistance for her, even though it's the most resistance for you). Our kids to push every boundary we have from birth until we die, it's something that's never easy to get used to until they finally break into freedom. And by then empty nest usually sets in. These are all other good reason to keep calm about this sort of situation. There are certain unofficial rules about handling teenage daughter behavior patterns. You have to remember that 1. this isn't the first nor will it be the last time she's going to push your limits or her own, and 2 when your teen is in that rebellious state, the more something upsets you, the more she'll keep doing it.
- Although it's biologically natural for teen to middle aged men to be attracted to older girls and younger women, it isn't socially or morally acceptable. That means that most men have to fight between their natural physical instinct to seek out partners who are reproductively ripe, and their developed psychological side that demands that they not even consider any ideas of relations with females who are dramatically younger than they are, or under the age of eighteen. The interesting thing is, you would be hard pressed to find many men who has not at least considered involving themselves with young ladies in one way or another. You'd probably even be surprised to know that near 80% of men between the ages of 19 and 28 have had some form of relationship with a girl who was 3 to 7 years younger then he was. Of course, what you really have to keep in mind, is that like your daughter who doesn't understand her own motives, desires or actions, most men in that age range don't really understand themselves either. What they do understand is that they are very attracted to that young girl, she's fun she's attractive and she has no experience to judge him with. She's open and eager and it makes him feel good to be needed like that, even if he does recognize the danger. In most cases, the guy didn't plan out the chance meeting he had with your daughter. They might have met at a party or social gathering through mutual friends who bridge the age gap, or it might have happened online as your daughter was exploring older chat rooms or websites. He was already naturally exploring his own world and himself. Pushing the boundaries he sees around him and wishing for some adventure to come to him and help define who he really is. It's usually then that your daughter and he met in some form, and he found himself enchanted by her and the risks involved with interacting with her. During this time he fights with himself over what kind of man he is to be. Do these actions make him a pedophile or cradle robber? Is it just this girl, or does he want to explore more younger gals? Can he see himself waiting for this teen to become an adult woman, or is this just a temporary thing? Your daughter is naturally asking herself similar questions and seeking similar answers when she involves herself with an older guy. Does this mean she's really attracted to older men? Or is it just this guy? What will happen when she's ten years older then now? Will he be old and weird then? What would she do if he tried to hurt her? Or what if she really loved him? How would she stay with him when her parents really found out? Now, truthfully, society would likely have less of a problem with this temporary engagement of age-bending relationships, but the problem is that there are enough men out there who do have nefarious intent, and they are the sinister-top-hatted-figures we worry about. The ones who want nothing more than to deflower and destroy our little girls physically and psychologically. You can never be sure which guy is just lost and confused like your daughter, and which one has Ted Bundy as his idol. Regardless, the point I'm trying to get to here, is that most of the men, older or not, that your daughter is allegedly talking to, are probably not sinister black-top-hat-wearing villains fondling their handlebar mustaches as they think about tying your daughter to the train tracks. Most of them are simply confused by that psycho-physical battle going on their heads and bodies. Between the ages of 14 and 35, men go through many strange and often difficult transformations (including puberty and andropause), as do women between the ages of 13 and 26. These men likely know that what they are doing is unacceptable. They understand that they could land themselves in a world of trouble, but the physical side is winning the battle for them. In the distant past of our species, it was that same physical instinct that naturally helped to provide us with strong healthy babies.
- Now, I know you don't want to hear it, but sex is also completely natural, even for your baby girl. You have to keep in mind, that although your daughter will always be your sweet innocent darling who was just learning to crawl yesterday, she's not going to always be a little girl to the rest of the world. Eventually she goes through several 'changes' and then metamorphosizes from a petite princess into a powerful queen. Part of the process of growing to become a well-rounded adult, is going through the challenges of love, lust, intimacy and yes, sex. Obviously, if we parents could chose for them to go through that later on, it would be so, but we can't. Nature has taken over, and she is going to learn her harshest relationship lessons now. She's on the Hero's Journey that we all go through. She's going to get involved with lots of guys, all of whom she'll allow to take her to different levels. When she's made it through those trials and tribulations, she'll come out with her foundation for future relationships. She'll have an idea of what she really wants in a man, how she should act in relationships and she'll develop her 'relationship philosophy' through a combination of these experiments and the example you've given her through your relationship with her father/mother and other men. This time can be the most difficult for parents. It's not just the potential of forming relations with potentially dangerous or morally unacceptable partners, it's just plain hard to watch the tears of that first ended true love or to see her take unnecessary risks in order to mask the pain of hormones and psychological crisis. I know you don't want to think about her having sex or being intimate, and even when you do, you just want to wrap her up in that baby blanket and save her from herself and others until she's more mature (or maybe not even then). It's hard to stifle that natural drive you have. Though if you keep in mind that this is all natural, all just a process, you'll be much better equipped to help her safely through it all.
- Lastly, but no less important, is that it is NATURAL that you are also going through a change right now. If you're a father, you're probably in between the ages of 27 and 40, and you're entering your mid-life crisis. Either you're having troubles remembering that you're no longer 17 and the younger women you used to chase after, are off limits, leaving you with that "I'm old" feeling that is meant to naturally drive you to seek fresher pastures, or you're in the mentality that we're all knocking on deaths door and life is not meant to be wasted, which drives you to want to make your teen listen to your wisdom and experience and stay away from the dangers of boys, men, risk and all of the above. Regardless, remember that you are going through your own crisis that make your daughters situations seem way worse then they actually are. If your a mother, this situation can be just as bad, if not worse for you. Your natural instinct is to protect your daughter. You want to prevent her from getting hurt, and prevent others from hurting her, while at the same time, you don't want to be overprotective because some part of you does recognize this is natural (because you went through the SAME thing!), and another part of you welcomes the days when you'll be free of these worries, anxieties and stress - which only makes you feel guilty on top of everything else. If I'm right about this, then I'm probably also right that you're likely between the ages of 28 and 45. This means that you to are going through some miraculous and extra strenuous changes. You're putting up with your husband or partners crisis, you're dealing with your teens bad attitude and ever growing rebellion and you're also reaching a time in your life when you really want to be free, to explore the world from your own new perspective and deal with your own changes. Basically, my message is this - the only constant thing we can expect in our lives is CHANGE. Just as your daughter changes, so do you. Parenting is a two way street, just as growing up is. This is a time to help each other through, not fight.
Step 2. Aquaint yourself with the "changes" in your life
As I mentioned above, one of the most important things you can do to help your daughter, is to stop, reconcile and accept that there are changes that are going on in your life, your body and your mind. Put your daughters changes down as your second priority and your own life changes as your first priority. I know this might seem counter-productive, but the truth is, you can't help anyone if you aren't in order yourself. This is especially true with your kids. They are going to take more from your actions then your words, demands or discipline.
If they see that you are going through changes just like they are, and they see that you are handling them in acceptable ways, and that you acknowledge how natural the changes are, they are not only going to subconsciously start exhibiting the same behaviors, but they are consciously going to take notice. Not only will this help them in ways you can't imagine, but it will open them up and allow them to feel safer being vulnerable with you by sharing their current feelings, fears and desires.
So take the time to do some research about your own situation. Ask some experts, get into your astrology, dive deeper into your family history, explore your new perspective as a middle aged human being and a parent with a fresh teen. Allow your mind to consider what options you've got in your life in terms of where you live, where you work, what your philosophy about life is and don't forget to rehash your parental attitudes and education. Hardly any of us actually know what we are doing, so don't be afraid to admit it when you aren't sure what to do. That's the only way you're going to learn something that might help you make it through your own changes in a reasonably graceful way that helps your daughter through hers.
And remember, ignoring your own problems, whether it's to focus on your daughters behaviors or to focus on work, will only exasperate the problem.
Step 3. Open up the lines of COMMUNICATION
After you've taken a few deep breaths, and taken the time to take note of your own position in life, it's time to open up the lines of communication with your daughter. Though before you do, I want you to step back and recognize that if you don't have a good line of communication opened up with your daughter, it's not all because she changed or because you two just mysteriously stopped talking the way you used to. It happened for a combination of reasons that include your own actions. What I'm getting at, is that in order to be able to communicate effectively and appropriately with your daughter, you need to accept the part of the blame that lies in your hands, for the poor communication you have.
Now, that being said, this hub is not trying to guilt trip you. Wallowing in self-blame won't help either, and your daughter needs to work on her communication just as much. Just be open, don't point fingers and realize that at this point, if you have sucky mother-daughter or father-daughter communication, and you need to start over.
That being recognized, you can start fresh and get that line open. Sit down with your daughter, and push your way through the ackwardness. Yes, she's going to try to get out of it, and yes, you'll probably feel mutually as eager to go back to ignoring each for the most part. Though this is important. For your daughter, this is a time when she is testing you out, to see how far you will go to show that you care. Consciously she might rebel, but subconsciously she'll be thanking you and developing a stronger trust for your advice and rules.
Now, here is the key. You want to dangle the meat in front of the tiger, without setting the tiger off on a bloody rampage - meaning that you want to get your daughter to open up and talk with you, or a trusted adult (because sometimes it will never be you that she opens up to specifically) about what's going on in her life and her mind. Once you have an idea of what she's thinking about, experiencing physically and emotionally, and you have an idea or what she's been through already, you'll be better able to consider what she needs your help with. If it's closing the age gap of guys in her mind who are acceptable dating partners, or deciding what sort of social situations are appropriate to take part in, then you've got an easy next few steps.
Though you won't get to any of them if you don't at least attempt to talk with her about boys, men, sex, drugs, friends, relationships and all the other icky topics you've probably been avoiding with a 100 yardstick. If you are to do that, the most important advice I can give you, is to start talking about these subjects with others. Get yourself used to having conversations that naturally flow about these topics. This will leave you less uncomfortable, which will help relax your daughter during otherwise uncomfortable conversations. Next, learn to open up about your own experiences when you were her age. Were you the teen girl who secretly had relations with older guys or men? Were you the rebellious sort who went out and partied when your parents tried to ground you? Were you the guy who let himself cross the dangerous lines and have relations with a gal way to young for any real relationships? Were you the one who fell head over heels in love with the most inappropriate partner? Or were you the one who drowned your broken heart in drugs or alcohol?
We all did something that really changed our lives when we were teens. Something that holds a strong presence in our memory. Many parents feel that by opening up about their own teenage experimentation and rebellion, that we are giving our teens permission to act the same way. Though really, what you are doing is being honest and vulnerable, which gains the respect of your teenager. And this is something to explain to your daughter as well, that you are not condoning or accepting any unacceptable behavior, but you are acknowledging that nature plays a big part in the foolish ways we act as teenagers, and that it is a time of learning and making mistakes. This will translate to your daughter as:
I understand that you are going to make mistakes, push boundaries and reach for independence. I acknowledge that this time is as difficult for you as it is for me, and I want you to know that no matter how many mistakes you make or how bad you feel you mess up, I will always love you and be here to help you.
Keep in mind that communication is way more important at this point in time, then control is. If you know where your daughter is, who she is with (or could be with), what she is going through and what experiences she is likely to head towards, you can be much more empowered to ensure that she makes it through this part of her life safely.
Step 4. Make a Choice - Access Denied?
Now, if you've done your work opening up the lines of communication, your next decision is a biggie. You can either:
- Take away all your daughters access to any devices that allow her to communicate with potentially toxic characters. You can turn off her cell phone, take away her password for the internet and emails. You can unplug the home phone line and ground her for life.
- You can realize that the only thing that would prevent your daughter from doing what she wants to, is to lock her up in a padded room with a heavily chained straight jacket. Even then, murphy's law dictates that somehow she would get out and get away to do what she wanted in the first place. Recognizing this, you might choose to instead allow her to have access to the technology and devices she normally would, with some new limits.
Make your choice and stick with it, because at this point your daughter needs you to be firm about your convictions. And no, I'm not suggesting you be rigid either. It goes back to the "figuring out your own philisophies". Life is not black and white. It's purple and red and blue and mucky brown. Figure out what you feel is right, what is acceptable, what isn't and what is flexible, then clearly define your daughters limitations by those convictions.
Step 5. Make a Choice: Spying vs. Blind Trust
Now, if you chose "Access Denied", then you can skip this step. Though if you, like most parents, chose to acknowledge the natural part of all of this and are trying to parent from that natural rainbow colored perspective of life, then you need to make another big decision:
Do you trust her blindly and hope that she makes it through this part of her life safely... or do you exert some controversial yet very logical parental surveillance tactics?
Now, I'll probably get bit for this one too, but I would personally take the position that it's useless to try to take away all access to communication devices and just as futile to trust our teens blindly. I believe that the best thing we can do when our children become teens, is to be aware of what is going on. To have the knowledge of where, when, what time and with who, enables us to step in when we are really needed, and to hold back when it's better to let our teens find out for themselves.
If you agree with me, then you'll want to do your own research into the ins and outs of digital spying devices for parents. You can have a GPS locater placed on cell phones and in vehicles. You can gain access to conversations taking place in rooms even when the phone is off or the battery is dead. You can get archived lists of text messages, phone logs and emails, even if they've been deleted. There is no lack of access to you as a parent, for surveillance equipment that you can use to not only keep your daughter safe, but to give you some peace of mind.
All that being said, I want you to understand that the issue of spying on our kids is controversial for many reasons. Not only does it just feel wrong, but there are many ways to abuse the power. Part of having this information is so that you can tell when you aren't needed as much as when you are. Most of the time, our teens aren't really doing anything that bad, and it's usually far from unnatural, though that doesn't stop much of it from still being quite shocking or confusing for you as her parent. When this happens, you often want to spill the beans and somehow clue her into your spying. If you let your teen know that you've taken the steps to observe her in such detailed ways, she is likely to find ways around your precautions, and she will also lose a lot of trust for you until they become parents are understand why you did it.
For those reasons and others, you might decide that you would rather just keep the lines of communication open with your daughter and hope that she doesn't get herself into situations to intense for her maturity or experience level. Sometimes hope and trust are the best virtues man-kind possess. If you decide this will work best for you and your daughter, then it is the best option.
Don't let anyone guilt you into or out of the decision that feels right to you.
Step 6. Recognize that you really have NO control
I have mentioned it a few times above, but through personal experience, I think that most parents have a hard time truly accepting the lack of control we have over our teenagers.
The reality of life is that you only have so long to teach and guide your children. Usually that's from the time they are born until they are about 12, sometimes 13. Between those times we teach them to crawl, walk, talk, eat, play, use the toilet and play nice. We help them through their basic education and try to impart some wise wisdom on them. After that, it's left up to them and the wheel-of-fortune as to where they will land. They'll take what you taught them as kids and combine it with their physical urges, psychological changes and environmental influences to head through their teenage and early adult life.
The only thing you can really do is play the role of the coach and cheerleader. Sometimes you'll be shouting commands and directions from the sidelines, other times you'll sweep the field with an encouraging and educational cheer. You can search your game book for the best plays, offer them lots of advice and challenge their better nature as much as you want, but you cannot physically or psychological prevent them from fumbling, tripping or make mistakes.
Okay, enough with the football analogies. Basically, just stop and think about it. You're parents couldn't stop you when you were that age, and you can't stop your teen daughter either. The best you can do is make sure she is fully aware of the dangers of chatting with, texting with or in some other way interacting with guys or older men. Talk to her about why she feels attracted to him (mystery, allure, hormones, etc...) and why guys and men are attracted to her (crisis, exploration, attraction, instinct, etc...). Give her some examples (both GOOD and bad) of how her continued interactions with older men might go.
Make sure that she not only understands how much of herself she might be tempted to give up for a guy who most likely isn't interested in a future with her that she imagines, but that she could also get her guy friend in a ton of trouble. I know from a parental point of view, we could care less about the guy who's tempting our teens, but it would help open your daughter up to the fact that there are consequences for our actions in life, and often they are inflicted the worst upon those we care most about.
Once she understands your position, your rules, your limitations and that her actions all have consequences, then step back and try to remember not to panic as she makes her own decisions. Keep in mind that what you've told her may go in one ear and out the other consciously, but subconsciously, everything you told her will drive her actions. She'll both test out what you told her and she'll trust it at the same time. From your angle, it may seem like she hasn't listen and is doing the exact opposite of what you said, when really, she's just double checking that you were right. Let her do it. It will rebuild her trust in your experience sooner.