Wednesday 16 October 2019

Dear David Coleman: My 15-year-old daughter drinks and hangs out with older boys

Be honest about the full extent of your fears
Be honest about the full extent of your fears
David Coleman

David Coleman

Q My daughter is 15 and is breaking my heart. She goes out and never tells us where she is going.

I know she is drinking because she has been seen down the town drunk with some older boys that I definitely do not want her hanging around with. We've tried grounding her, but she just laughs at us and goes out anyway. We can't lock her in the house! If I take her phone it causes huge rows and she even got into a tussle with her dad one day when he tried to take it from her. It was awful. I am so upset and it's like she doesn't care. Have you any advice?

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David replies: It is so difficult when communication breaks down between you and your son or daughter. Your daughter, particularly, has hit that very tricky age in the mid-teen years, when she still carries a lot of the irresponsibility of childhood and yet has the strong desire for independence and taking control of her own life that comes with adolescence.

That said, it sounds like she is making dangerous choices and so you are correct to be worried about her. Both her choice of older friends and her choices to drink will both put her at increased risk of harm. However, I would guess that any outright condemnation, by you, of these choices will lead to a strengthening of her resistance to you.

It is probably unrealistic to expect her to be able to see things from your point of view. But, I think if you can shift your communication with her, away from consequences and punishments, and towards greater understanding of her and where she is at in her life, you might be able to form a stronger connection with her that will allow you to influence her more.

So, if you can show her that you can get that she probably wants to be able to do whatever she likes (without then immediately telling her she can't) and that it is hard still being 15 and not being independent, she might feel like you understand her more and may be able to listen to you more.

I think it is fair to let her know how worried you get, about the drinking and the hanging out with older boys. Be honest about the full extent of your fears (like that she may get raped while drunk), but don't expect her to alleviate those fears. You are simply sharing them with her.

At the same time, it would be great if there is another adult (like an aunt, close family friend, older sister or cousin etc) who might also be able to give her the safety messages you'd like her to hear.

Then, instead of trying to prevent her (which isn't working anyway and only leads to conflict, because she actually has some power… to just walk out) redirect the conversation to how she can keep herself safer. Show her you want to work with her, not be fighting with her and you may just find that communication changes for the better.

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