Dear Carolyn: I am concerned about one of our children, a college student. We tried to raise her with good values and a moral code. We always strongly discouraged heavy drinking and casual sex; she is also aware of the dangers to both. I’ve learned now, however, that she enjoys going out drinking most weekends, uses bad language in social media (though we’ve definitely discussed that Internet history may live forever) and has no problem with “hooking up,” though it doesn’t appear she’s done it often.
She is outgoing, impulsive and curious by nature, but also quite sensitive. I did read some rather X-rated text threads she had this year, though I feel guilty that I invaded her privacy. I cannot mention that I read these because she’d be very angry and turn that into an argument against me.
How do I deal with my depression and concern about this? More importantly, how can we attempt to help our daughter live a healthier, safer lifestyle, put more value on sexual intimacy and true relationships, and maintain a good reputation? Is there anything more my spouse and I can do or, given society today, just know we tried?
She views any comments I make as just her old, out-of-date parent making judgments. We have a very good relationship otherwise, and she is a loving, thoughtful, successful girl.
Sad and Concerned
Stop snooping, and don’t follow her on social media if you can’t handle it.
You cannot “attempt to help” someone who has neither asked for your help nor shown signs of needing emergency intervention. All you’re describing here is a daughter making choices you hoped she wouldn’t — and it’s taking every ounce of restraint I can muster not to say, “Welcome to parenthood.”
I know this isn’t what you want to hear — and I swear it’s not an it’s-all-your-fault accusation but instead a friendly stop-making-it-worse suggestion — but whatever a parent takes passionately to heart will be exactly how a child rebels, should that child feel rebellious. If that describes your daughter, then you can expect that your placing any further emphasis on clean moral living will be just the push she needs to get a tattoo. (I don’t have a problem with them, just guessing you do.)
“We have a very good relationship otherwise, and she is a loving, thoughtful, successful girl”: Take out the “otherwise,” and you have everything a parent dare ask for. So instead of trying to re-raise a daughter who’s already beyond your reach, I urge you to focus on getting rid of the “otherwise.”
Cutting off the TMI supply is a step toward that bigger goal. Next: not judging her. Some kids heed their parents, some need to learn by doing, some come to their own moral code, based less on, say, partner count than on how they treat loved ones or the planet or the less fortunate. Respect her and she’ll seek your counsel; judge her and she won’t.
As long as she remains a successful, loving, outgoing person who maintains a good relationship with her parents, you don’t need to know what she does with her body or weekends. At her age, did you want your parents that deep into your business? Having electronic access doesn’t mean you should use it.
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