When your teen wants to spend the night at her boyfriend's — Good Parenting

Teens kissingDear Dr. Debbie,

I recently faced a challenge when my 16-year-old daughter was invited to spend the night at her boyfriend’s house. His parents were hosting a holiday party until the wee hours and they offered a guest room for her so there’d be no concern about her being driven home so late. My original response was, “No” and didn’t change though she kept trying to make a case over several days. I’ll admit, at times her arguments almost put me over.

Do you have some good reasons for my side of this dispute for when it comes up again?

Still the Mom

Don't miss last week's column The problem with excessive video game playing — Good Parenting

Dear Mom,

How about:

  1. You are legally responsible for her actions until she turns 18.
  2. Reproductive hormones can easily derail rational thinking.
  3. There can be long-lasting repercussions from giving others the wrong impression about you.

(Note: these facts, however well-intentioned, will not be well received by your romantically involved daughter.)

Instead try a positive approach. Assure her that you see her being increasingly mature, including the many ways she is taking actions toward her future education and career goals. Secondly, since sex is probably on your mind and very possibly theirs, remind her that good information helps her make good decisions about her health and enables her to achieve the goals she sets for herself. (If you haven’t had a “facts of life” talk with her, it’s long overdue.) Then validate that it probably feels as if you don’t trust her (or perhaps her boyfriend), but that she is nearing the time when she can make all her own decisions.

Until then, you will continue to do what you think is in her best interests.

Trust and Responsibility

Build up your trust in your daughter by recognizing all the ways she is acting responsibly. Give her responsibilities in the family, and commend her for the responsible actions you see her taking at school and other places in the community. A trustworthy teen is less likely to act irresponsibly regarding sexual behavior.

A part-time job, volunteer work, involvement in your faith organization, as well as taking pride in her school work all add up to a more responsible person.

According to the Gutenberg Institute half of all 17-year-olds have had sexual intercourse. While not a fail-safe technique, your role in helping your daughter prove how responsible she is may protect her from the odds. Those 15 to 19-year-olds who were not sexually active gave as the top reason that it would be “against their religion or morals.” Others said they want to avoid pregnancy.

Obviously, family influences can be deterrents for teenage sexual behavior despite the fact that teenage hormones have always been part of Mother Nature’s plan to continue the human race.

Your family’s (assumed) plan to have your daughter graduate from college, establish a career, and marry before she has children is an entirely “unnatural,” albeit progressive expectation. Help her to form her own high expectations about the future she wants for herself.

Sex Education

Sex is, for most humans, an inevitable part of life. Whether this is already a part of her life or is yet on the horizon, your daughter needs to be prepared to prevent disease transmission and unwanted pregnancy. The guest bedroom of her boyfriend’s parents’ home, during or after the party, is not the only place and time the opportunity may present itself.

In addition to the biology lesson, her sexuality education should include the moral decisions that are underlying sexual behavior. Is anyone being hurt by my behavior (parents, grandparents, an unintended child, a future husband)? Will I regret my behavior? Will my actions be used to embarrass me or hurt me later?

Morality is something that parents can and should include in a variety of discussions, not just about sex and relationships. Middle Earth, a nonprofit in New Jersey that has been serving the needs of teens for over forty years, recommends that parents:

  1. Be a good role model regarding values and moral behavior
  2. Watch for teachable moments about values and morals
  3. Have frequent conversations about values and morals
  4. Pay attention to who else might be teaching values and morals to your teens

If you need a refresher, contraception and disease prevention information is readily available on the internet and could also be provided by your daughter’s regular health care provider. At this time, most states allow for minors to receive birth control prescriptions without parental approval. This may be why the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports a decline in teen birth and abortion rates in recent decades.

Consider driving a car as an analogy for parental guidance regarding their teens and sex. You would do everything you could to assure your child had the best information, reliable technology and unquestionable evidence of maturity before handing over the keys.

It doesn’t sound like you’re quite there yet.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She has a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children's Museum. Long-time fans and new readers can find many of her "Understanding Children" columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy[at]jecoannapolis.com.

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