How parents can help teenagers grow socially safely.

Smith2 asks: Hi. We immigrated to Australia 3 years ago. My daughter is 14 years old, very shy, and has only managed to make a few friends in this time, whom she holds on to dearly. She does not socialize with anyone else but these friends. She chats to her friends on Facebook only, but last night we found out she was chatting to a strange boy, younger than her. How do we explain and show her the dangers of this without causing her to rebel?

Hi Smith2 –


Thanks for your really interesting letter.  It hits me that you’re really asking about three things, all separate issues though they overlap.  Let me go through them individually though.


First, congratulations on your immigration.  I know that it’s very hard to immigrate to Australia (and extremely hard for us dogs, since they have very strict quarantine policies, to protect their wonderful wildlife).  But of course, this great adventure, that will give your daughter emotional and intellectual gifts for the rest of her life, also has a cost, and you’re seeing it now.


Moving is always tough on kids.  And moving to a new country is especially difficult.  She walks into a new classroom full of kids who not only have a different life experience, but have different accents, different educations, maybe even a different language.  And if she was shy before, of course this will only exacerbate her problem.


Now in the long run, there’s a really good chance that the opposite will happen.  Her exoticism will make her more popular, and she will learn social skills that will enable her to feel comfortable in any social setting anywhere.  At least we can hope!


But initially, she probably felt pretty alienated.  And even though it’s been three years, she’s still suffering some of that.


Second, you say that her way of dealing with her shyness has been to have a small group of friends.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this – in fact, it can often be a sign of a healthy sense of self that she isn’t someone who’s “friends with everybody.”  The only problem is if she is clinging to these few friends out of fear of the others, instead of just because they’re the people she likes and relates to best.


And third, there’s this issue of her chatting online with this boy.  If you’re sure that this is truly the boy he seems to be, then there may be less danger here than you’re seeing.  Facebook is scary in lots of ways, but the fact that she’s letting you see and know about her conversations with him make me feel pretty good about the situation.  IF the boy is really what he seems to be.


So here are my suggestions:

1)    Make sure the boy is real. Is there a way to make sure he’s not some creep who’s looking for teenage girls online, pretending he’s something he’s not?  Is he a friend of a friend of hers?  If you’re sure he’s real, then I’d allow her to continue talking with him (with you able to see the conversations).  If not, though, you might need to intercede into the relationship.

2)    Realize that this contact with this boy is a healthy sign in her.  She’s breaking out of her usual shy routine, and that should be honored and celebrated – even if this isn’t the best choice she could make.  Remember that adolescence is a time when it’s necessary to make lots of mistakes.  Your role as a parent is just to make sure that she’s as safe as possible as she makes them!

3)    Boring as it may seem, have a serious talk with her about internet predators. Even if this boy is real, just make sure she knows.  A 14-year-old Australian knows a lot about a lot of subjects; you don’t have to censor yourself.  Talk with her about the dangers, about the way they might tease information out of her; make sure she never sends them pictures of herself or information about where she lives.  And most important of all, make sure she knows to absolutely refuse to meet any stranger anywhere without one of you.

4)    Take a deep breath and accept the truth:  She is going to rebel.  It’s necessary.  She’s at just the right age to start seeing things she doesn’t like or respect about you, and all adults.  She’s going to rebel against her family, her teachers, maybe even her group of friends.  And as long as she does this in a way that doesn’t cause her real harm, it’s actually a good thing.  You don’t want a daughter who starts rebelling when she’s 26 – have her get it over with now!

5)    Encourage her new socialization in some active way.  Maybe you could throw a party for her friends, or rather, you could help her throw it.  Encourage her to invite more than just her usual small circle, and especially, to invite some boys (In fact, inviting this boy to this party could be a great way to check him out).  You don’t want to make her social life your issue, but the more you can support her growth, the better.

6)    Okay, sixth?  I’ve heard lots of talk about a small Australian movie that’s doing really well now called “Red Dog.”  I don’t know if it’ll ever get shown overseas, so I might never be able to see it.  So #6 is to go see the movie, maybe taking her and some friends, and let me know what you think of it.  The more audience it gets there, the better chance I’ll have of seeing it here!

And that’s really all I can suggest, Smith2.  You’re right to be concerned, as we know all sort of terrible things can happen with the internet, but at the same time, it sounds like your daughter is taking care of herself quite well.  Just make sure you’re there to help her as she takes these tentative steps out of her comfort zone.


And if there’s anything else I can help with, any specifics about her situation, of course don’t hesitate to ask.







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