Friday 19 December 2014

This Life: I caught my 14-year-old daughter nearly naked with a boy

I caught my 14-year-old daughter nearly naked with a boy -- am I right to put her in a stricter school?

Orla Barry

Published 04/07/2011 | 12:18

woman in bed awakening

I came home from work early last week to find my teenage daughter in a state of almost total undress with a guy. I nearly lost my life and screamed at him to get out of the house. She is just 14 years old.

I was so furious I couldn't speak to her for the rest of the day.

Since then, I have laid down rules, which she sees as completely unacceptable. She can no longer be in the house on her own (I've taken her house keys from her.)

She is forbidden from seeing this boy and I told her I need to be told every day where exactly she is going. We are still barely speaking, but I'm so shocked at seeing her virtually having sex. She has only just finished first year.

My husband thinks I'm being too harsh and is feeling sorry for her. He pointed out that when my son was up to something similar a few years ago I was nowhere near as angry.

This is different. If she gets pregnant, she is the one who will carry the can.

I think her school is also part of the problem. It was not my first choice, and I always felt there was a very relaxed attitude to sex and drug use there. I'm sorely tempted to look into other schools, preferably an all-girl's school.

In the meantime, she has already purchased tickets for a festival away, which I now regret letting her buy. I'm in two minds whether I should let her go.

Reply:

No matter which way you look at this, 14 years of age is very young. I can understand your dramatic reaction to the sight, but wonder amid all the rules if there was any attempt to have a conversation with your daughter. Laying down the law might have seemed like the only solution, but alienating yourself from her will only create further problems.

Changing schools without her consent will send her resentment soaring. Neither will attendance at an all-girls' school stop her from having underage sex, I'm afraid. This is a matter you're going to have to handle delicately, and it's important your husband speaks from the same rulebook.

Finding your daughter, your child, engaged in sexual behaviour is an image that the most liberal parent would scarper from. Think for a moment, though, what it must be like for her: I could think of few more horrific things than to be caught up in an amorous moment by my mother. Your daughter is probably still shrieking inside at the scene you witnessed. No wonder you can barely speak. The fact is that it happened, and now you need to confront it.

By the way, just because she was barely clothed doesn't necessarily mean they were on the verge of having sex. Contrary to typical Hollywood scenes, teenagers can spend plenty of time fooling around without having sex. When your daughter decides to have sex is not something you can control. What you can influence is how she goes about it and how prepared she feels for what she is undertaking.

Fourteen is a tough age for parents and children. She's now fully into her teens and yet only a couple of years out of childhood. It's a hard transition for parents. Suddenly, you're faced with your child engaging in activity associated with adulthood. At this stage, she is starting to experiment in new behaviours. It's an exciting and terrifying time. She might want to push the boundaries as far as she can. Tempting as it is to forbid her from seeing people you see as having a bad influence, you're adding drama to the situation and possibly only increasing her desire to meet them.

Do you know anything about this boy? Is he really the problem here? How do you know he was the one who instigated any of the behaviour? At this stage, girls tend to be more advanced and curious about having relationships. If she is feeling peer pressure, you could be the support she needs to figure her way around the minefield of teenage sex.

It's easy to have double standards about your children, but I don't believe it's helpful either to your daughter or to the wider issue. Sure, if she gets pregnant she will be carrying the child, but we need to be encouraging young men to take equal responsibility. If we continue to tell young girls they always need to shoulder greater responsibility for sex, we are in effect leaving boys off the hook.

Punishing your daughter for something her brother was doing at her age some years ago without recrimination will also drive up resentment. She does need to take responsibility for her actions, but your double standards mean you are letting him off lightly.

The selection of school might influence your child's academic career and her lifestyle choices a little, but far more influential will be the friends she hangs around with and the relationship she has with her parents.

ATTITUDE

I wonder what you mean by the school's attitude to sex and drug use. I know many secondary schools now deal very frankly with the issue in first year. They do so to try and catch pupils when they are young and before the real experimenting starts. Schools have learned that telling pupils not to do something rarely works -- advising them to act cautiously and responsibly will have a far better effect.

Removing any child from a school is a big decision. Questions will be asked in her old school, while she will be the new girl in the new school for at least a year. I would strongly advise against it.

Fourteen is young to be heading away on a festival. It seems your eyes have been opened all of a sudden, and you're not liking what you're seeing. There are surely ways of working around this. If she is going away to a festival, who is going with her? Where is she staying, and does she need to have one of you with her? I can't think you would just let her off for a couple of days without knowing who else will be there.

You are going to have to start bartering more and more now. She needs some leeway or she will rebel against everything. Use this as an opportunity to work out what rules are truly fair and what boundaries make sense. Talk to her about her sexual behaviour and don't hope it will just go away. Find out the issues she's coming to terms with too. During these years the mother-daughter relationship is very important.

Don't be too hasty. Try to look at the world through her eyes. She is still the child she was, and chances are she would be relieved to know an adult she can trust has her best interests at heart.

Orla Barry is social affairs correspondent with Newstalk 106-108fm and presents 'The Green Room' on Mondays from 10pm-12am

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