A Mom recently came to see me about her fourteen year old daughter. LJ is a bright, articulate and sensitive fourteen year old. She lives in an upper middle class community out East. Her parents are well educated and very active in their community. They are also very involved in her life.
At the end of eighth grade, LJ started to change. Her friends started to change. Her Mom asked her about the change. LJ told her not to worry, that she was trying to reach out and make new friends. Her mother's concern was that the new friends were juniors and seniors in high school.
The summer between eighth and ninth grade was very tumultuous for this family. LJ was really pressing the limits. She wanted a later curfew and excessive overnights. She got upset with her Mom when she questioned all this and indicated that she wanted to talk to the parents regarding the supervision of the various overnights.
In an effort to meet their daughter halfway, LJ's parents extended her curfew on the weekend. She was now allowed to come home at 11pm. Her parents were also open to additional extensions based on what LJ was doing, where she was going and whom she was with.
Unfortunately, that was not enough. LJ still felt her parents were very controlling and overbearing. At fourteen, she felt she should be able to come and go as she pleased and hang out with whomever she wanted till whatever time she wished.
The summer was an emotional roller coaster for this family. Almost every weekend was a new challenge in parenting. In the middle of the summer, LJ's Mom discovered LJ was smoking cigarettes. When she was cleaning her daughter's room, she found a carton of cigarettes stashed under her bed in a brown paper bag. When she asked her daughter if she was smoking, LJ vehemently denied that she smoked. Then her Mom confronted her with the paper bag and the carton of cigarettes. Then World War III broke out. A lot of means things were said between mother and daughter that day.
After things calmed down, Mom tried to reason with her daughter. Unfortunately, LJ was not interested in anything she had to say. Over the next few days, very little was said between them. As a consequence for smoking underage and lying, LJ was restricted. Needless to say, she was not happy, but she was compliant.
School finally began in the fall and the tension from the summer seemed to be much less. LJ seemed really happy to be starting high school. The old family dynamic seemed to be restored. She did very well during the first marking period. All of her teachers had positive things to say about her academic performance and her class deportment.
By early November, things started to change. LJ's grades started to drop. She became more agitated at home, and less cooperative. She started to complain about her curfew and other family restrictions. Her new claim to fame was that she was a high school student and should have a lot more freedom to do her own thing!
She started to bring around new friends, and again, they were older. They seemed nice enough to her parents, but were definitely allowed to do much more than LJ. Every weekend was a party at someone's house and LJ was invited. Her parents knew that many of the parties were not supervised. They knew that many of the participants were smoking, not just cigarettes, and drinking as well.
When LJ's parents suggested that this kind of social venue was not healthy for their daughter, she went ballistic. She proceeded to tell her parents that they were clueless and did not have any sense of what teenagers do today. She further stated that most families tolerate their teenage children's social choices. She indicated that their only concern is that their children are safe and do not act recklessly. She wished that her parents would think similarly.
Her parents reminded her that she was fourteen, and that the social behavior she and her friends were engaged in was against the law. Although she might feel her parents were old-fashioned, they felt compelled, out of love for her, to obey the law and keep her safe.
After that conversation, LJ's Mom felt compelled to contact some of her daughter's friends' parents. She was shocked at how many parents thought she was making a big deal out of nothing. One parent actually accused her of overreacting. She said drinking, smoking pot and staying out late at night were rites of American passage for most teenagers.
LJ's Mom was really taken back by the conversation. She became even more apprehensive about her daughter's newfound friends and their social behavior. She decided to see a counselor. She spoke with her daughter's high school guidance counselor. As a parent, she expressed her concerns.
The guidance counselor echoed some of Mom's concerns regarding LJ's social associations with juniors and seniors, especially the students LJ identified as her friends. Her guidance counselor indicated that they were involved in some social behaviors that clearly were not appropriate. Of course, LJ totally disagreed.
The counselor that LJ saw took a different tack. She felt LJ's parents needed to lighten up and give their daughter a little more room to grow. She did agree with LJ's parents that drinking and smoking pot were not positive choices. However, she did not see a big problem with the age of LJ's friends or her desire to stay out later.
LJ's parents weren't happy with the counselor's recommendations. However, they were willing to coexist with LJ's friends in a later curfew, as long as she agreed not to drink and smoke pot. She reluctantly agreed.
A month passed and things seemed to be better. As the holidays approached, the request for extended curfews and sleepovers increased. In an effort to trust LJ, her parents said yes to her various requests.
However, they noticed that she started dating, and not a boy her age. JR is seventeen and a senior in their community high school. Her parents insisted on meeting him. When they met, he was polite and well-spoken. They definitely felt he was too old for their ninth grade daughter.
As parents, they felt stuck. They counselor strongly urged them not to block the relationship, but rather to express concern without judgment and condemnation, and they did. LJ's Mom had a conversation with her daughter about her moral compass. She talked about what was appropriate social behavior for a fourteen year old girl and a seventeen year old boy in a dating relationship. LJ assured her mother that she had no intention of becoming sexually active with her boyfriend. She also reminded her mother that it was none of her business, if she were to make that choice.
Right after Christmas, LJ turned fifteen. Her relationship with JR seemed to intensify. By late January, LJ was asking to sleep over his house. Needless to say, her mother said no. LJ was not happy. One weekend, she just stayed out all night. She came home the next day and her parents asked where she stayed. She admitted that she stayed at the boyfriend's house and that she told his parents that her parents said it was okay.
After the trauma of the weekend, LJ's Mom called JR's parents to let them know it was not okay for their fifteen year old daughter to stay overnight at their home. Although JR's parents were polite, they didn't understand why LJ's parents were upset. LJ's Mom tried to explain her concerns, but it became apparent to her that JR's parents had no problem if JR and LJ chose to sleep with each other.
LJ's Mom was overwhelmed after that conversation. She felt she was fighting a losing battle. Her battle continues. Only time will tell what will ultimately happen in this family's struggle to parent their daughter.
What is clear is that other parents should not interfere or undermine another family's attempt to raise their children in a landscape where almost anything goes. What are appropriate parameters for teenage dating?