How can I keep my 15-year old daughter from acting out and making bad choices?
MOLLY: The reader (the teen’s mom) added that her daughter has been sneaking around with an 18 year old boy and that she caught her stealing alcohol. She also said that her daughter has been hanging around with a tough crowd. She is wondering how she can “stay strong and help her daughter from hurting herself during this time?”
We’ve are thrilled to welcome Annie Fox as a guest to our site! Annie is an internationally respected character educator and is highly qualified to answer this question. Her books include Teaching Kids to Be Good People: Progressive Parenting for the 21st Century, and the popular Middle School Confidential book and app series for kids. You can learn more about her at AnnieFox.com.
Annie Fox: It’s not easy being a teen. There are so many changes that can easily throw a young person off balance. Changes in the way she looks. The way she feels about herself. Changes in her peer relationships. Changes in her relationship with you, her mom. From your description, your daughter is having a hard time navigating safely. Like all teens, she craves peer approval. The craving is so strong I call it Peer Approval Addiction, that is, the willingness to do whatever it takes to fit in, including stuff that can present real danger to her.
You are trying to control her behavior when she’s not with you. Understandable, in light of her recent track record of making poor choices. You are not alone by any means! However, there is no way you can be monitoring her behavior 24/7. What you want (more than anything, I’d guess) is for your daughter to develop the good judgment to make healthy choices when she’s on her own. That’s the goal of all parents. But there may be something going on with your daughter that is telling her it’s OK to push beyond the typical teen testing of limits. I believe you and your daughter would benefit from a conversation with a family therapist. Your daughter needs help figuring out how to be independent from you without jeopardizing her safety and her future. And you need support in guiding her through this phase of her life.
MOLLY: Mom, do you have anything else to add to Annie’s advice?
Dr. Susan Rutherford (MOM): No, I thought it was excellent advice; very balanced. It’s a difficult situation and I agree with Annie that it is important for this reader to consult with a professional so she and her daughter can get some help together. In the meantime, she can help her daughter learn how to make good decisions for herself by initiating conversations about benefits versus consequences. The developing brains of teens keep them focused on the here and now so, as parents, it’s our job to help them learn to think about the potential results of their choices.
As our children get older, we should allow them more and more opportunities to practice their decision-making skills and interfere less and less. Our goal is to feel confident that our child makes wise decisions in her life, even when she is not around her parents.
This mom has shown the daughter that she is aware of the behavior choices she is facing and they should continue to maintain an open, non-judgemental dialogue so that the daughter feels like she can trust her mother to help her suss out her path through life. The mom should realize, too, that making poor decisions can be learning experiences, too, and sometimes that’s what needs to happen to change a teen’s behavior. As difficult as it may become, the mom should remember that it’s not all about her as it’s her daughter who is struggling to figure out who she really is and who she wants to be.
MOLLY: What could be the long-term consequences from this kind of acting out as a teen?