tefexu asks: How should I treat my young daughter (15) as to her relationships with her peer groups?
Hi tefexu –
My general answer to you is similar to what I’d say to a vanquished army after a war, if they asked me how they should treat the winners: be nice and try to get along, but hold to some boundaries.
Starting around age 8, human children begin to move away from being completely focused on their parents, and get more interested in their peers. By age 13 or so, the peers actually become more important in their minds than their parents or other authority figures.
Now don’t get too frightened. I’m not saying that the peers have more say than their parents. Think of how you relate to your family and closest friends, and how you relate to the police. Well, your family and friends mean more to you, but that doesn’t mean you go out to regularly break laws for them – you still respect the police’s authority, right? Well, with a 15-year-old daughter, you’re kind of like a cop. She can love and respect you, fully, if you’re lucky – but her mind will always be going back to her peers. Who’s her friend, who’s her enemy, who’s saying what about whom, how is she viewed, and of course, is anyone really attracted to her, and especially, is someone she’s really attracted to attracted to her? These are the questions she’s wondering all the time.
So should you, as a parent, fight that? Should you demand, “No, don’t think about that cute boy in Algebra class, you should be thinking about your parents instead!” Absolutely not.
And on the other hand, should you say, “Oh sure, you can go out anytime you want and stay out as late as you want and do anything you want; you’re an adult and can make all the choices you want for yourself”? Oh, that’d be even worse!
No, your job is to do your best to understand where your daughter is these days. To realize that her peers are enormously important to her, but that, at the same time, she needs parental authority in her life. And you’re the one who can give that.
Remember when she was two? She was so cute, but she also was kind of a brat, right? Always saying “No” to whatever you told or asked her, having tantrums whenever you demanded anything, all that? Well, the teenage years are kind of like a return to the behavior of age 2. Kids are much smarter and more aware, but suddenly they have the same job as they did then, which is to test every limit they can. And if you try to keep them as controlled and limited as they were at age 10, you’re going to have a terrible revolution on your hands. But also, if you give in on everything, you’re going to have equally bad problems. Why? Because teenagers actually want limits! They are testing because they need to find what the new limits really are!
The only problem is, they don’t know it yet!
So the way to treat your daughter, in regards to her peers, is simple: Be her parent. Make rules, set clear boundaries, and then let her go out and interact with those peers in every way she can. If she breaks the rules, make her have some consequences. But if she obeys them, let her be as free as possible. And as she experiences huge joys, celebrate them with her. And as she experiences mistakes, disappointments, and heartbreaks, be there for her then too. Nurture and love her, and give her whatever wisdom you have, as much as she can (or will) take.
And then be ready for her to test you again!
When I got big enough to do it, I built myself up to be strong enough to jump over the fence of our back yard. Handsome was very upset and put more fencing on the top of the fence, to keep me in. I hated it. But eventually, I got old enough to understand that it was safer for me to stay in the yard, and that my being there was the best thing for everyone.
Your daughter will eventually develop her own understanding of what’s important. Her values might not be the exact same as yours, but most likely they’ll be pretty similar. But for now, she needs to push your authority aside in lots of ways, and be one with her peers instead. Your job is to (unpopularly) insist on a few rules and boundaries. If you can do that, and still be accepting, validating, and loving to her, you’re going to have a great relationship with her, probably for the rest of your lives.
After all, once I got over the disappointment of not being able to jump out, I was able to be Handsome’s best friend all over again.
Best of luck,