Orla Barry: I read my daughter's texts and suspect something is going on between her and a teacher
Published 13/06/2011 | 05:00
I HAVE been worried about my teenage daughter for a while as she has become increasingly moody and argumentative. Up until last year we had a very close relationship and there was rarely anything we couldn't discuss.
I was quite young when I got married to my husband, who is 15 years older than me. Maybe because of this I have always been more of a friend to her while he has been the authority figure.
I know everyone says teenagers change but the change seemed so dramatic that I got worried and started trying to keep a check on who she meets and what she does in her spare time. I took to checking her phone, which I promised myself I would never do.
It seemed from her messages she had a huge crush on one of the young teachers in the school. This seemed harmless until I checked her texts again recently and now it seems she has met him a number of times after school.
I'm completely alarmed. She's 15 and I think he is around 25. She does appear older than her years but she is not mature enough for this. At this stage, the only evidence I have that there is something going on is through her phone. I think our relationship would be forever damaged if I admitted I've been keeping tabs on us because it was the one promise I gave her if she behaved responsibly with her call credit.
I haven't told her father because he will lose the head. I want to put a stop to this before it goes any further but genuinely fear for the breakdown of our relationship. She was in a relationship of sorts last year but with a boy her age and it really seemed quite innocent.
AT SOME point you are going to have to decide when you are going to play the role of parent over friend. Your husband has taken on the challenge for years, maybe now it's your turn.
You're right -- you could very well see a breakdown in your relationship but perhaps that's a sign this relationship needed to change.
I've no doubt promises are made by parents all the time that phones won't be examined or diaries read, only to be broken once something appears to be up. It doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. A friend gave her eight-year-old a diary a few years ago with a similar promise which she broke a week later.
Her sneaky reads nearly killed her. A couple of weeks in and one day the little one wrote just a single entry: 'Last night I had sex.' Her mother was completely overcome with thoughts of the very worst and met her at the school gates in a panic.
It turns out she had been told that lying on a bed next to a boy, who was a playmate of hers, meant they had sex. Her distraught mum swore she would never read the diary again, a promise she has already broken.
Reading texts we're not supposed to are always going to make us wish we never snooped. Now that you have done so, there's no ignoring it.
I sense the age difference between yourself and your husband is significant to you and wonder if it's an issue now that you look at your own daughter. Are you thinking of yourself as a young girl falling for a man many years older?
Maybe this will be an issue if a relationship of some kind has begun and you intervene. The fact, however, is that if any of this is true this will be a matter for school authorities and possibly the gardai. A teacher, no matter how young, is going against school rules if he dates a pupil.
Sure it happens. Pupils in their final year are often only a few years younger than newly qualified teachers. I would be surprised if a school didn't take some punitive action, however, if a teacher did engage with students.
In your daughter's case it is far more serious. She is only 15 and if sexual relations occur, he can be charged with statutory rape.
All this is down the line and completely hypothetical. Teenage crushes on teachers are hardly revelatory, but there is no reason why he should be meeting your daughter after school. You can keep sneaking a look at her phone or tackle her head on with your concerns. Real istically, she will probably not tell you what's going on considering the threat to his teaching career.
You need to be able to indicate that you already know or suspect what is at issue. Perhaps there are ways of doing this without revealing your source. Once you know the circumstances, you will need to impose some parental guidelines rather than proffering a comforting shoulder.
The other route is to go to the school and tackle the teacher directly. His reaction will most likely let you know just how true any of this is. A threat from a parent that would jeopardise his career and leave him facing potential criminal charges will almost surely put a stop to any budding relationship.
However, would it not make more sense to have it out with your daughter first? I suspect your relationship could be badly damaged if you go to the school and not include her in the matter.
It's also important that she should be able to understand what's at play here. It must be flattering for a young teacher to find a teenage girl has a crush on him, but he must take responsibility for his position as an authority figure.
Is it really wise to keep all this from your husband? It seems you have put the friendship you had with your daughter over your responsibility as a parent and also your trust with your partner. Is he not also worried about her changed behaviour?
If this is true, this is a serious development in your daughter's life and having the support of your partner will be important. She will also see the concerns you have more clearly if you present them to her as a unit.
It's wonderful to have created such a close friendship with your daughter, but right now friendship is not working for either of you.
Her change in mood also indicates she may be in over her head and having an authority figure step in and take control may be a sort of relief.
We find out unpleasant facts about each other through all kinds of ways, but what matters now is what you do with that knowledge. One day your daughter will understand you broke your promise out of concern for her well-being. She will appreciate that you behaved as a parent in order to protect her.
It won't make you popular but then again, that's not what parenting is about.
Orla Barry is Social Affairs Correspondent with Newstalk 106-108fm and presents 'The Green Room' on Mondays from 10pm-12am
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