COL Rebellious daughters need monitoring

Community of parents can really help

Author's note: Recently I've received several questions from parents of teenage daughters. Although the questions have come from different states across the country, all have involved situations where the daughter has been caught lying to the parents about where she's been or where she's going.

In one case, the daughter said she was going swimming with friends at a public pool but actually ended up swimming at a dangerous, unsupervised gravel pit. Another girl told her parents she was spending the evening at a girlfriend's house but sneaked out with an older boy.

Yet another missed her curfew on several occasions, making up excuses that shifted the blame to other people.

In two of these situations, the parents suspected their underage daughter had been drinking. In all cases, the parents felt angry and betrayed. Some parents lashed out with words, one lashed out with her hand (a slap across the face), and all said they wanted to ground their daughters for at least a month.


For those of you who have lost trust in your teen daughters, here are some tips for how to handle such challenging, but not uncommon, situations.

As our children grow up and acquire greater freedom to come and go as they wish, we parents face increasingly difficult challenges. We cannot possibly control everything our teenagers do as much as we'd like to guide and protect them in the way we did when they were young.

But we usually do still control many of the resources our children want -- money and access to the car, for example. Without being overly punitive or overly emotional, we need to teach our children that privileges come with responsibilities. And those responsibilities include being honest and following the house rules.

When those responsibilities are not met -- as was the case with the daughters mentioned above -- privileges are temporarily taken away. For example, you may revoke driving privileges, set an earlier curfew, or deny permission to attend a weekend outing with friends.

There is no need for shouting or slapping. In fact, those behaviors may drive a permanent wedge between you and your daughter. Straightforward, predictable implementation of logical consequences, matched to the severity of your daughter's misbehavior, will be far more effective in the long run.

Your daughter also needs to hear a clear message that you trusted her to do what she said she was doing, but she chose to violate that trust. Now she must regain your trust and that will take time.

Meanwhile, you will need to monitor her whereabouts much more carefully -- just as you did when she was younger. She won't like this, but you will need to tell her that, because you love her very much, you will do everything you can to keep her safe and help her learn to make wise choices. She needs to hear that it's your job as a parent to help her develop respect, honesty, and responsibility.

One helpful strategy will be to communicate with the parents of your daughter's friends. Most parents have heard the familiar refrain, "But all the other kids get to do that."


The air goes out of that argument when the parents are talking to each other on a regular basis. And life is easier for kids and their parents when families agree to common guidelines and expectations about teen behavior. Young people thrive best when they are surrounded by what is sometimes called a "positive conspiracy" of caring adults.

Keep a phone list of your daughter's friends handy, and let your daughter know you're in communication with the other parents who care enough to know where their kids are and who they are with.

You're bound to hear some grumbles from your daughter and her friends. Parenting is not a short-term popularity contest, but a long-term investment in your daughter's health and well-being.

One last important step in dealing with your daughter's behavior -- notice when she does follow through and show appreciation for her efforts to cooperate with your rules and expectations. Let her know she is regaining your trust. And, over time, demonstrate that renewed trust by gradually allowing her more freedom again.

Hopefully, these steps will see you and your daughter through these times of testing the limits. If not -- and especially if your daughter shows increasingly rebellious behavior -- seek professional help from a counselor. Your daughter's behavior may indicate a more serious underlying problem. But with help, many teens and families can work through such difficult times, moving toward stronger relationships and a healthier developmental pathway.

Dr. Martha Erickson, director of the University of Minnesota's Children, Youth and Family Consortium, invites your questions on child rearing. E-mail them to or send them to Growing Concerns, University of Minnesota News Service, 6 Morrill Hall, 100 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455.

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