Discovered 16 year old daughter engaging in sex. How to handle the situation?
October 8, 2008 5:55 PM   Subscribe

Came home early to find one of our teenage daughters half naked on the couch with a guy? How should we deal with this situation?

We, the parents, came early this afternoon to discover one of our daughters topless on the couch with a boy, who was also topless. Clearly they were surprised and we quickly kicked the boy out of the house.

The boy is 17, the girl 16, so no laws were broken. The boy goes to a baptist school and has begun the process of going into the army. We have not met him before, though we were aware that our daughter had just started dating him.

The boy called to apoligize for his behavior and say that he had received a Summarized Grade Article 15. Upon talking to his recruiting officer, we were informed that this was not so, though the boy had indeed loosely reported what had happened to his recruiting officer. When we spoke to the officer, we were informed that he had been given a Summarized Grade Article and that since no laws had been broken, he couldn't be given one.

As to our daughter, she's generally a good, typical teenager, no real complaints other than school grades and large phone bills. She insists she is still a virgin and that this is the first time the guy as been over, though she did admit he's picking her up and taking her home for several weeks.

What's the best way to handle this situation, in your opinion?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (60 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

Those sound like pretty fine and healthy 16/17 year olds, actually, and better behaved than most. (The boy called to apologize? Wow, I am impressed.)

You don't really make clear what you're looking for, here. As you say, they're legal, so... what are you asking? How to make them stop having hormones? What "situation" needs to be handled?
posted by rokusan at 6:04 PM on October 8, 2008 [21 favorites]

There's no way to stop this from happening. I would make sure your daughter understands the emotional impact of sex and has appropriate medical care/supplies (on the pill and using condoms).
posted by GIRLesq at 6:05 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Make sure she has birth control available, and knows how to use it.
posted by Wet Spot at 6:06 PM on October 8, 2008 [24 favorites]

Why did you speak to his recruiting officer? You expect the military to formally chastise him for making out with a girl his own age? I'm sorry that this happened to you - I'm sure it was really upsetting, and your daughter should have been more careful not to put you in the position of having to confront her sexual activity - but I think you need to really dial it down. You're having strong feelings, and that's understandable, but there's no "situation" to be dealt with.
posted by moxiedoll at 6:07 PM on October 8, 2008 [55 favorites]

1. don't panic. she's that age.

2. have mom take her to a gynecologist if you haven't already. get her on birth control and buy her condoms. this will not encourage her to have sex. it will encourage her to be responsible if she chooses to have sex.

3. have a frank talk with her about sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and babies. the more you talk about it, a) the more she will know and be able to feel better about the decisions she makes--in other words, she'll know she's choosing not to have sex because of the consequences, not for some empty "because mom and dad say so." also, in my experience b) the more you talk about sex, the more she will think about you when things get hot and heavy, and perhaps it may gross her out and she'll stop.

for what it's worth, my dad is a gynecologist, so i grew up knowing EVERYTHING, and he talked about it openly. i have to say it did a lot to check my behavior, even though i probably wasn't as good a kid as your daughter.

the point is the keep the lines of communication open. mom may be the better person for this, for obvious reasons, but it's best if she knows she doesn't have to hide from you.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:08 PM on October 8, 2008 [11 favorites]

What exactly do you feel needs to be handled? Surely calmly reiterating your rules/moral standpoint in what she is and isn't allowed to engage in at that age is enough? If you go mental/blow a fuse/interfere in the relationship too much, you encourage rebellion and resentment in your daughter.

If no laws were broken, why were you talking to the boy's recruiting officer? This is solely about how you wish your daughter to behave, although if no laws are broken, it is really about whether she wants to follow your rules or not. Trying to discipline him is dangerous ground from retaining a sense of trust with the daughter, in my opinon.

God know, many people have done that and worse - with no lasting harm (including myself) at that age. As long as she understands protection (STD's and pregnancy) it is really only about the morals you wish her to have. If she won't risk STD's/pregnancy through knowledge, it is a voyage of discovery and every teen does it.
posted by Brockles at 6:08 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hi Mom! This happened to me a few times in high school. My Mom handled it badly, threatened to have my boyfriends arrested, and generally was a total reactive pill about everything and acted like every guy I hung out with was secretly trying to rape me. I guess this is easy to say now that I "turned out okay" but it created a rift between us that was never fully smoothed over and made me feel I couldn't talk to her about sex, ever.

First of all, I'd be a little more specific with your language. Your daughter was fooling around with a guy, she didn't really "have sex" with him in my lexicon. While I understand that your understanding of things may vary, agreeing on terminology may become important as you talk to your daughter about this.

I don't know any of the military stuff here so I won't comment on that.

Next, it's a good time for you the parents to first talk to each other about how you feel and what you think is appropriate. It's useful when parents have a united message about this sort of thing. You can't do anything about the fact that your daughter was topless wiht this kid and there's not a lot of purpose in freaking out about it to her. Instead, think about what you'd like to both set as ground rules and what you'd like to just talk to her about moving forward. Some of this will depend on your personal values system and some of this may just be in the "good idea" camp. So, talking points with her

- expectations for male boyfriend-type houseguests when you are and are not home
- expectations for her generally when she's out of the house
- if she were my daughter I'd have one of you have a frank talk with her about birth control. I'd much rather have her having safe sex than riskily fooling around and doing "everything but" because she thinks she's not crossing some imaginary line
- assure her that you still love her and that fooling around is normal, feels good, etc, but that _________________ (whatever your buts are here about maybe waiting, not having sex in your house, waiting until she knows the guy better, whatever)

I don't mean to be fatalistic or anything but the chances are that she's going to continue to fool around with this guy or eventually some other guy, if not at your house then at his house, if not at his house then someplace else. Now is a good time to have a conversation about some things that might be useful (birth control, how to say no if you mean no, that it's ALWAYS okay to call Mom and Dad if you're at a party and you're in an awkward situation and need a ride home. etc etc) and you can pave the way for her (hopefully) not shutting you out of her life as she matures and experiments. I know it's totally terrifically awkward, but the guy apologized? That's pretty mannered, he might be a keeper. Try to keep an open mind and stay calm. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 6:08 PM on October 8, 2008 [53 favorites]

Don't mock or belittle her, don't try to impress on her the danger of his company. Take her at her word. Tell her what you will or won't allow under your roof, but don't treat her relationship -- or her -- as a problem to be solved. Be kind to her, and respect her. I was her once.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:09 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seriously, relax. Your daughter's going to do this stuff when she goes to college anyway, so you might as well let her develop responsible habits while she's still under your wing. Did you go to college? Did you notice how all the kids that came from sheltered, strictly-disciplined homes went fucking wild? Surely that would be more disturbing and unhealthy.
posted by borkingchikapa at 6:11 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Tell her to take it to her room, for starters.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:12 PM on October 8, 2008 [9 favorites]

From counseling a number of 16 year-olds...

Build trust between you and your daughter by talking with her nonjudgmentally about her desires and feelings. Make sure she knows about safe sex practices and emphasize the absolute right of consent. Let her know that whatever happens you will not shame or disown her.

Those are my top 3.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 6:19 PM on October 8, 2008 [4 favorites]

I'm a mom of teenagers - first address the rule that was broken. I assume that you do not allow kids to have people over that you do not know when you are not home. This is basic safety for you and them and there should be some kind of consequences.

Keeping this a hard and fast rule lets your kids off the hook when friends press for access and they are not comfortable with the situation.

Second talk about birth control and sexual safety. Make sure your child understands about date rape, STD's and keeping themselves emotionally healthy. You will never know if and when virginity is lost nor should you. But if it hasn't happened already, it will.

Have one big talk about it (whichever parent that will handle it better) and make sure to have a follow up conversation in a week or two. This is one of those conversations best had in a car - you're busy doing a task with a minimum of pesky and embarrassing eye contact. She doesn't necessarily have to go on the pill right away but I would leave that option open to her.

Good luck.
posted by readery at 6:22 PM on October 8, 2008 [4 favorites]

Make sure she gets a yearly pap - it also gives her the excuse to ask her doctor for hormonal birth control. Until you are comfortable with your daughter being sexually active, feel free to remind yourself that hormonal birth control has other medical applications. Make sure she has a good sense of self-worth and how to be safe. Please let her know more than she hopefully ever needs to know about consent, and that she can withdraw it at any point.

Having been a 16-year-old girl myself, you really don't have much control over this. Arm her with knowledge and trust that you've taught her well in the 16 years you've been her parent. You need to back off a little.

I mean, she's going to be an adult in a couple of years. You won't always be there to make her moral judgments for her. Then what?
posted by giraffe at 6:22 PM on October 8, 2008

Make sure she has birth control available, and knows how to use it.

This, this, this, this, this, this, this, and....THIS.

This really is the only answer.
posted by tristeza at 6:24 PM on October 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think the important thing is to communicate your worries and your hopes instead of trying to inflict them upon her. In other words, a frank talk about sex (as others have said), and you can tell her what you're worried about - pregnancy? reputation? her getting hurt? what else she might be doing and not telling you? breach of trust? She's old enough that she should understand them. Anything reactive you say/do without this is likely to cause her to communicate less and possibly do more, thus making your fears real. At least that's what I'd think.
posted by plinth at 6:27 PM on October 8, 2008

It will feel awkward and uncomfortable to talk to her about this stuff (I know it sure as heck felt awkward for me, and I made it even more awkward for my parents at this age), but you're doing yourselves and her a disservice if you fail to get over the awkwardness and talk to her about being sexually active.

I come firmly down into the camp of not chastising her for what you interrupted or even bringing it up. In fact, this young guy sounds like he might be a good person to invite over for dinner. Warmly, calmly suggest your daughter invite him to share a meal with you in a week or two. That is only polite, after he did what must have felt incredibly scary for him and called you to apologize.

Talk to her in general about being sexually active. If she is not on birth control, she should have access to it. If she is still seeing her childhood pediatrician and not a GYN, this may be the time to switch to a new doctor. A woman may help her feel more comfortable to ask questions and take advice she likely wouldn't accept from you.

Being judgmental or angry may damage your precious relationship with your daughter, and may even open her up to choosing more risky behavior. I know it certainly did with me. That aspect of my relationship with my parents, particularly my Mother, is something that is still a little broken between us.

You're at a fork in the road, here. Choose wisely and you'll have a stronger relationship with your daughter and encourage her to make safe, judicious decisions about her life and her body. Good luck.
posted by arnicae at 6:31 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

One last thing that I think is important and may not be a problem at all: make sure the things you tell her and what you are looking for expectation-wise are based on real stuff. Think "What is the problem you are trying to solve?" and move forward working on that hopefully with her.

Don't just say stuff like "We don't want you to get pregnant" where she hears "We want you to go on the pill" and you think you're saying "We don't want you to be having sex yet" My Mom couched a lot of her discomfort with my teen sex life and other activities with "What will the neighbors think of me as a Mom?!" which was sort of crazy talk. We had better conversations when she was basically saying she really cared about me not getting pregnant because it would make going to college difficult [I really wanted to go to college, so I was motivated] and was willing to be okay with me going on the pill to actually solve that problem, not go for unrealistic abstinence angles.

I'm aware that my scenario is likely not your scenario, but I'd love to see this awkward situation with your family turn into something positive, not be the beginning of a decline.
posted by jessamyn at 6:41 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

This happened to me a couple times. I still occasionally have nightmares about this exact situation.

Though this isn't necessarily the case with your daughter, I was having sex with the boy, even though I swore up and down to everyone that asked that I wasn't. Even though I still probably wouldn't admit it to my parents if I could do it over again, I wish they'd been a bit more proactive about the whole thing because it was a really lonely situation. Though they told me they wouldn't be disappointed no matter what I was doing, I never go the sense they actually meant it, which is why I hid the fact for so long. So, my big advice is to show you mean it when you tell her you love her no matter what. Don't try to rush through the Big Conversation, and don't let it turn into a lecture. If your big talk about this is 40 minutes of you explaining why having sex at her age is a bad idea and her sitting there quietly you risk alienating her the way my parents did to me. You can't control whether or not she'll have sex, so really the only thing you can do is make sure she's well-informed and not let it create a rift between you.
posted by lilac girl at 6:51 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

My stock comment has always been, "That's not appropriate behavior". After 6 years of hearing that, she finally got it. (It takes time.)
posted by wafaa at 7:15 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have no idea what kind of relationship you have with your daughter or what kind of family life you have. If you're approaching this after years of hard line authoritarian fire and brim stone bible belt parenting it'll take more than advice on AskMeFi to help. That said...

Remember what it was like to be a teenager. Teenagers are stupid and self centered. She obviously doesn't think making out with a boy when you're not home is wrong, so if you come down like a ton of bricks on her, freaking out about it... she'll just shut you out and conduct her life outside the reach of your radar. Hundreds of thousands of teenagers do the same very day.

It is important to remain in a position of authority as her parent but still have open lines of communication. Honesty goes a long way. My parents never bothered with the moral arguments against having premarital sex, because history shows that nobody listens to those arguments anyway. My parents were upfront and honest with me about how much emotional and financial energy went into raising a child, how much it screws up your life to be a teenage parent, and how nasty and lifelong STDs can be. They obviously had my best interest at heart and I respected that.

A final thing to keep in mind. There is no "right" when it comes to marriage or parenting. Don't sacrifice healthy communication and a strong relationship with your daughter over being right. Teenagers spend most of the time being wrong and screwing up, they need someone to reach out and help steer them towards the good ideas and the good decisions, not swing a bat at their head with the rule of law written on it.
posted by JFitzpatrick at 7:17 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

On maybe my first or second date in high school (I only had two), I stayed out with a guy, talking at a Waffle House I think, until maybe 3 in the morning. My parents had never set a curfew or any rules, and so I had (really, I was a rather isolated and literal person) no idea that this would be a problem.

The next day, my parents told me they were upset with me, and made a show of trying to think of the right course of action. I say "show" but I mean I think they really gave it some thought -- a little. Then they decided to ground me. Essentially on "principle". Since they were punishing me for a rule that didn't exist when I "broke" it, I realized that they were not rational people as I defined it, and essentially stopped divulging anything about my life to them. Their behavior seemed arbitrary and weird to me, and still does, even though now I can understand that they may have felt that they'd be judged harshly by their friends if they "let me get away with it".

Don't do this; don't punish her unless you had an explicit, clearly-stated rule that she broke, even if you think it should be obvious. That's the thing about being young -- you do not know things unless / until they are explained to you. And one huge problem with being a young adult is that people start assuming you know things that you may, by chance, have missed.

This is true for older adults, too. Please always give people the benefit of a doubt.
posted by amtho at 7:28 PM on October 8, 2008 [14 favorites]

That boy is a keeper. Called and apologized? Reported it to his recruiting officer? Does he have a brother for my daughter?
posted by nax at 7:35 PM on October 8, 2008 [9 favorites]

She sounds like a normal teenager... Which is a good thing!

As thinkingwoman said, the key is to keep the lines of communication open. While this incident is something that will most likely be difficult to discuss, it's something you need to discuss, if you want to keep a good relationship with your daughter through to adulthood.

What are your house rules? And are they realistic? What are your concerns? Be open with her about them. And give her credit for being an intelligent young adult who you've brought up to respect herself and make her own decisions. They may not be the decisions you'd make for her - but she's 16, so you don't really have the right or ability to make decisions for her any more. All you can hope to do is influence her decisions. And you can't influence her decisions if you're not able to discuss them with her.

Invite her boyfriend round for dinner, make him feel welcome in your house - he sounds like one of the good ones - don't make her feel that she has to conduct her relationship in secret. She's going to do what she's going to do anyway - all you can do is make sure that she's doing it safely and can talk to you if she needs to. Better in your house than somewhere else!

I wish I'd had parents like that. I didn't, I left home at 17, I turned out just fine, but I don't have much of a relationship with my parents any more.
posted by finding.perdita at 7:38 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Building on what Jessamyn said about communication, I would advise against the semantics of statements like "get her on birth control or "put her on the pill." Discuss various methods of birth control. Make various methods of birth control available. Find her a gyn so that she has an authority figure who is not Mom or Dad to ask about sexual health. But don't make it something that you are doing to her or for her, because SHE needs to be the one taking control of her body.

I think it's important to try make sure that your words are well-chosen, because it's easy for "touchy" subjects like sex to be surrounded by a lot of inference and insinuation and assumption.

As to our daughter, she's generally a good, typical teenager, no real complaints other than school grades and large phone bills. She insists she is still a virgin and that this is the first time the guy as been over, though she did admit he's picking her up and taking her home for several weeks.

Hey, it's hard when the kids are becoming adults but are not all the way to adulthood yet. It's weird to watch your baby girl become someone who is old enough to have her own sexuality. But if you think that you've got a good kid that you've raised right, try to trust your relationship with her. Don't make sexuality the issue on which you treat her completely differently than any other issue related to house rules or trust or your guidance.
posted by desuetude at 7:43 PM on October 8, 2008 [5 favorites]

Whatever you do, even if there's actual sex (not second base), don't kick her out of the house. That happened to one of my friends, and it really fucked her up.

(also if your daughter ever comes home and tells you she was raped, don't say "Oh! I need therapy!" instead of "Oh! Are you all right?")
posted by notsnot at 7:46 PM on October 8, 2008

I'll just add that nax is dead on, if I had a daughter, I'd pay good money for her to have that kind of boyfriend. The fact she's with an upright guy like that and not a jerk says she has pretty good judgment.

Your daughter is going to have sex, and the decisions she makes about when and who and why would ideally result from her background growing up in a healthy and nurturing environment, where she was presented with information and options to keep her healthy and safe.

I can completely understand if your point is "you know, please be safe and wise but I don't want to see or hear it"--I'd feel the same way about coming home and finding a teenager of mine masturbating on the couch. "That's healthy and all--but you have a room for a reason."
posted by maxwelton at 7:52 PM on October 8, 2008

The best way to handle the situation is to apologize to your daughter and the boy. What exactly were they doing wrong? They certainly weren't "having sex," or anything like it, despite the deceptive title of the question. They're acting like normal humans and you're acting crazy. I don't get what the recruiting officer has to do with any of this: it's none of their business.

Make sure she gets a yearly pap - it also gives her the excuse to ask her doctor for hormonal birth control.

Way wrong--according to the American Cancer Society, you should not get pap tests until THREE YEARS AFTER first vaginal sexual intercourse. So she does not need one unless she started having sex at age 13. I would make sure she knows you would support her if she wants hormonal birth control, but if she says she's a virgin, believe her. Then stay out of it and let her make her own decisions. It's really none of your business.

(You heard me. Just because you're her parents, that doesn't mean you have any right to control her sex life, or lack thereof. It's none of your business.)
posted by Violet Hour at 7:57 PM on October 8, 2008

Please don't let this be the incident that you keep in your memory that defines her as a person. I have a parent who, nearly 20 years later, still brings up a similar incident that happened with me. You don't want to do this. Address the situation, deal with it, learn from it and put it behind you. Trust me, your daughter is probably more mortified than you are.
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:12 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you want her to have consequences, I'm sure her complete embarrassment is enough to teach her not to do that again. Especially since you got her boyfriend's recruitment officer involved. She's probably completely mortified.

They weren't having sex, also. They were fooling around. The dumbest thing they did was do it in the living room where they could easily be walked in on.
posted by fructose at 9:02 PM on October 8, 2008

They were doing what is natural for them to want to do, and you may have already put a tint of self-disgust and shame into your relationship with your daughter.

My brother and I have been where your daughter is, with our mother. She had a need to viciously attack and demonize our extremely normal teenage behavior. It permanently changed the way both of us relate to her. Our relationships with her took years and years to get close to mending. I actually don't think my brother is there yet, and he's married now to someone our mother likes.

You went out of your way to humilate her and get the boy in trouble. Why? And you brought in that vile tactic, of bringing in another authority figure so you could humilate them as a team, and make sure you squeezed every last bit of punishment out of this incident that you could. That was very wrong of you. There is no problem here. Your daughter and the boy sound like good kids. You should apologize, at the very least.
posted by Coatlicue at 9:04 PM on October 8, 2008 [3 favorites]

Teenagers will be teenagers. Your job is to ensure that they are responsible, ethical, and informed teenagers, making responsible, ethical, and informed choices for themselves insofar as they are able. When they're not, they should feel that it's OK to come to you and ask for advice.

My parents had rules about which doors had to be open at all times when my high-school SO was in the house, what race and gender my dates could be (only white guys needed apply), were inevitably squirrelly any time school sent home the sex ed permission slip, told me I couldn't date until I was 18, etc. etc. Meanwhile, they avoided any sort of real education or discussion on the topic, aside from my father's ham-fisted "I want my grandkids to look like me" speech, and generally made me feel stupid for asking any sort of questions about romance or sex.

Fortunately, I was a pretty defiant and intelligent kid, got all my sex ed from stolen romance novels and the encyclopedia, was smart enough to use condoms and get on the Pill when the time rolled around, turned out to be bi... and, eventually, ended up at a shrink about the fact that my parents were racist, homophobic, ignorant, overprotective, and had raised me to be distrustful and defensive, especially in the face of others' concern.

(They're not getting any grandkids, ones that look like them or not, FWIW.)

You don't want to be my parents, trust me.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:27 PM on October 8, 2008

Hi, Original Poster here with a few clarifications.

The boy called us and told us he had reported himself to his recruiting officer. Since this boy appears to be a bit scummy (he was friends with her last boyfriend and started making passes at her when they were having problems), we called the officer ourselves to verify the story. As stated in the original post, this story was not true, so you'll pardon us if we're not enamored of him. That's fine, we don't have to like him, she does and as long he isn't abusing her, we will stay out of it. He's not Satan incarnate, but neither is he an angel.

The daughter definitely knows that no one is allowed over without permission, especially boys, unless it's long time friends, then fine, whatever, they can stay for dinner, spend the night on weekends etc, etc.

Our main concern here is keeping her focused on school. We don't expect her to get straight A's and study study study all the time, but we definitely expect her to keep a solid B average and have explicitly made this clear over the years. Yet lately the drama in her teenage life has increased dramatically and she's lost focus in school as this week's progress reports attest.

We love her very much. My favorite personal image of her is when she's helped me do stuff in fixing the house. She's a good, hard worker and people regularly compliment us on that, which is nice, but she's also responsible for that. As long as we have food and shelter, so does she.

Our minor concern is her choice of boyfriend, but that's her choice. We're happy that her closet girlfriends agree with us and have pointed out to her that if he screwed over a friend for her, he might screw her over as well, but again, that's her decision to make and she has a good set of friends to see her through if that happens. Frankly, policing a child's life takes enormous work and we have no interest in doing so. Every child has to grow up and part of the process is making mistakes.

We hope she has a great sex life and have also made that clear over the years. We've had many talks about sex and have specifically made sure she knows what clitoris is (since 5th grade) and that anyone she's intimate with should also know what it is. We also pointed out the dangers of having sex and the potential repercussions of unprotected sex and sex with love vs sex without love. We are open to putting her on the pill and will mention condoms we talk to her about this.

Our expectations of her are clear and have been repeated over the years: Her job is going to school and getting good grades. Anything that gets in the way of that will not be tolerated, period.

No, we won't be apologizing for coming home too early and catching her breaking one of the few rules we have with a scummy sounding boy as her grades are dropping.
posted by stanleystanley at 10:05 PM on October 8, 2008

Woah, this suddenly made me really grateful about how cool my parents are.

The way you are approaching this is a decent model for how parents alienate their teenager children. Do you want her to start shutting you out because of the way she thinks you'll react? You need to tone down the "CONTROL" dial on that parental control panel.

Also, may I state, that her 'job' is to be a teenager. Unless you pay her for going to school and getting good grades with conditional love or something.
posted by atmosphere at 10:25 PM on October 8, 2008

Lots of teenage boys are "scummy" in the sense that they will gladly, gleefully hit on, hook up with, and otherwise put the moves on teenage girls in dubious states of romantic availability. This is not particularly novel of the young man in question, and he'll probably outgrow it once his impulse control improves.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:09 PM on October 8, 2008

(Also, double standard. Why is your daughter not scummy for *accepting* these advances, when the young man *is* for having made them?)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:10 PM on October 8, 2008 [3 favorites]

Huh, I think your response is pretty reasonable. Some minor points:

1. If the only thing the boy's done wrong is making passes at her while she was going out with his friend, I might reconsider the "scummy" opinion. This is a hormone-stricken teenager, after all, not an adult; he's still got some growing up to do, and that's not really that bad an infraction, as far as teenage mistakes go.

2. Even if he is indeed scummy in other ways, I think you should invite him over for dinner anyway, as some other folks suggested, just to be supportive.

3. The falling grades may well be linked to the increasing drama/boyfriend activity, but it might be best to act as if they're unrelated--when you're discussing grades, don't mention her social life, and vice versa. Don't set up a conflict; don't make her feel like she has to choose between you/school and her boyfriend. There's plenty of time for both, I'm sure. Item #2 should help out in this area, too.
posted by equalpants at 11:12 PM on October 8, 2008

Whoops, forgot one:

4. You might want to give her permission to have the boyfriend over, or otherwise relax the rules a bit. Yeah, this is caving in, but your current rule is probably becoming unenforceable anyway, and the more trust you show, the more she'll be inclined to listen to you about schoolwork, etc.
posted by equalpants at 11:35 PM on October 8, 2008

So, what exactly is the question, then? You just want her to get better grades and not have anyone over when you're not home? That's a far cry from MY DAUGHTER'S HAVING SEX, WHAT DO I DOOOO, when in fact the daughter was not having sex.

Anyway, not having someone over without permission is reasonable. I'm not sure good grades is, though. Is she flunking out? I mean, I'm sure it matters if she graduates, but once you're out of school nobody cares about grades.
posted by Violet Hour at 11:53 PM on October 8, 2008

Since this boy appears to be a bit scummy (he was friends with her last boyfriend and started making passes at her when they were having problems), we called the officer ourselves to verify the story.

Aside from the fact that it's VERY strange that any teenager would have to report sexual activity to an official, I'd like to point out that social circles tend to be small in high school. Most kids I know dated at least a few friends, mainly because, well, who else was there to date? I definitely wouldn't judge a teenaged boy's character based on that.
posted by timoni at 12:18 AM on October 9, 2008

Make sure your daughter is very, very knowledgeable about safe sex, namely condoms. Make sure that she knows to educate her partner about condoms if he is ignorant of them.

Otherwise, she is doing nothing wrong. Sixteen is a pretty normal age for sexual exploration, and if your daughter is not being manipulated in any way, and she follows safe sex to a T, I see no problem at all.
posted by zardoz at 12:30 AM on October 9, 2008

This is a tough one, and as I was a 17 year old single parent* (to the utter delight of my parents - *cough*) I'm sure I have more than my fair share of baggage approaching this question. That being said -

You are at a pivotal and difficult stage in your relationship with your daughter. She's very close to being legally an adult, and as such, she is taking on more responsibility for her life. Hopefully you have instilled in her that she gets to choose what she does with her body, and that it's her right to either give or deny consent to sexual activity. Certainly she must be quite aware of your views on sex by now, and realizes that you disapprove of her 'scummy' boyfriend.

Unfortunately, there's no surer way to solidify a teenage romance than to oppose it.

My advice is, instead of punishing her for this relationship, try to consider the maturity, respect, and sense of responsibility it took for her boyfriend to call and speak to you directly after such a mortifying incident. (Imagine how embarrassed you might be now if your parents walked in on you half-dressed with your spouse. How awkward would that be? Imagine you're 17. NOW how awkward is it? I think they handled it well under the circumstances.)

Make sure that she has current, accurate information about birth control and STD prevention (and the means to obtain it!) from a responsible source that she feels comfortable with. Make sure she has the confidence to say no when she means no, and above all DO NOT JUDGE HER or her morals. She may not be leading her life according to your principles, but she is your daughter and the best way to jeopardize your relationship with her is to make your love and approval conditional on her behavior. (i.e. virginity) It is her body and her right to do with it as she sees fit.

When your child is in high school, it feels like their entire future rests on good grades. I suggest taking the longer view; ensure that she has a strong, healthy, and unconditionally loving relationship with her family, so she has a good model for developing the same kind of healthy relationships in her future.

Good luck and best wishes to your family.

*My daughter turns 25 today, and I fervently hope I practiced as well as I preach. I know it's not easy.
posted by Space Kitty at 1:16 AM on October 9, 2008

A similar situtation happened to me when I was 16 and I cringe whenever I reflect on it.

For me, it had a lot of repercussions and negatively affected my sex life until I was in my 20s. My dad and I didn't speak for months, and my mom, who acted calm and caring at first, launched a long guilt-trip campaign that resulted in me having psycho-somatic reactions for years to come -- in any sexual situation my abdomen would cramp up and I could never relax.

I wasn't allowed to spend any time alone with my boyfriend, who remains to this day one of the sweetest, kindest people I have ever known and who loved me with all his heart.

In the end, the guilt I could never quite shake and the tension it caused between me and my parents was too much and the relationship could never work.

Please don't make this a really big deal. She is mortified. Try to respect her feelings and let her save some face.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 2:32 AM on October 9, 2008

So... you post a question panicking because your daughter is having what most would think is a healthy sex life for someone her age. But actually your question is "how do I make my daughter get good grades?" And the grade thing has been happening longer than she's seen the new guy. Therefore, the new guy has little to nothing to do with her grades. Am I understanding this correctly? Have you told her that you're concerned about her average and why that is?

As for the scummy guy, nearly every teenage boy acts this way, in my experience. You may be a good judge of character, but my parents sure weren't when I was a kid. The only boyfriend I brought home that they actually liked was the one that date raped me. The one that they hated was the one that treated me best. As for scummy guy picking her up immediately after she left his friend, this happens all the time in high school. It's not like he picked up his best friend's wife after they divorced.

You need to lighten up and give permission for her to bring the boyfriend over. Whatever happens, it's probably better if it happens in your place, where she hopefully feels safe and supported, and you can monitor how much time she's spending with the guy vs. getting her work done.
posted by giraffe at 3:54 AM on October 9, 2008

Invite the boyfriend over for dinner more than once.
posted by ewkpates at 3:56 AM on October 9, 2008

Are either you or your wife in the military as well? Officers?
posted by jwells at 5:24 AM on October 9, 2008

Well, for what it's worth, plenty of teenage girls have dated, intentionally even, really awful boys, and turned out okay. I serially dated guys my dad hated (hi dad!) and guys I didn't even like, just because I didn't feel like being told that nice girls do X, Y, or Z. I knew very well what I was doing, and I did not care. It was more important to me as a teenager to assert my autonomy than it was to date guys anyone approved of. (Besides, I knew I wasn't going to marry any of those jokers.)

All of this is a long way to say, let it go. She's mortified, she knows you're disappointed in her, and your disappointment, it seems from your description, will go a lot further than any sort of punishment. I would not connect this incident to her grades slipping. Take that as a separate issue - she's going to assume that you are being hysterical about finding her making out with a boy (whether you are actually being hysterical or not) and she's not going to take you seriously about her grades. But, you should also know that plenty of girls that I knew in HS definitely chose to tend to their social lives over their academic lives and no amount of parental punishment changed that. Girls, in particular, are under a lot of pressure to fit in socially and being smart and responsible are not always facets of "fitting in" at every high school. All you can do is help her to understand the consequences of her behavior. After that, pretty much regardless of everything else, she's going to mess up or not on her own.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:54 AM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

The most romantic thing in the world is defying authority, and it sure is exciting to be making these decisions for the first time. You and me against the world! They just don't understand us! I see something special in you that no-one else does!

If you blame the boy for issues that should be separate (i.e. he's distracting your daughter from her schoolwork rather than she's just not working hard enough), you're just giving them something over which to bond.
posted by desuetude at 6:18 AM on October 9, 2008

Lots of great advice here. I just want to emphasize that this guy is not necessarily "scummy," he's a hormone-driven teenager. You need to compensate heavily for your mother-of-teenage-girl paranoia; just keep telling yourself "I raised her right and she'll be fine." Focus on the grades issue and try to keep your feelings about her boyfriends to yourself.
posted by languagehat at 6:53 AM on October 9, 2008

Also, as for grades, I am now, as an adult, one of the most (top 10% anyway) organized, fastidious and high achieving people I know. When I was your daughter's age, I was screwing up my grades. I even attended my first university long enough to fail out and drop out. When college was my idea (and not just what I was going to do after graduating high school), I handled it just fine and got a very high GPA (ending up with a Graduate School research fellowship it turned out I didn't want).

I almost flunked out out high school and I dropped out of my first college. Later, when I was ready, I went back to college on my own terms, then grad school. I now have a high-paying job and I'm a published author.

My brother didn't graduate from high school (and never went to college). He's a successful sound engineer.

I'm not telling you to stop worrying about grades, but you seem strangely obsessed with them. We no longer live in a world in which you're doomed if you flunk Algebra I. There are multiple routes to success.
posted by grumblebee at 8:43 AM on October 9, 2008

We're not military.

The grades are tied to scholarships.
posted by stanleystanley at 9:17 AM on October 9, 2008

When I was in high school I was caught in a similar situation by my girlfriend's father. He was a gruff, super conservative man who owned guns, and she was daddy's little girl. I was terrified, of course, and stammered my way out of the house, thinking I'd never see her again.

Later, I found out that he and his wife actually laughed about the situation later that night. I think it was his job as a father to glare, intimidate, and suggest strongly that I get out of the house. After all it was his house and we were being idiots (in the living room in full view of the front door), so he couldn't exactly walk in and say "oh excuse me for interrupting, kids."

But when it came to the actual *stuff* that was happening, he accepted it as normal, he just thought we were ridiculous for our choice of time/place and our scrambling to cover up as the doorknob turned. I actually became very close with her parents for the remainder of our relationship, and they often made a point to remind us that they remembered what it was like to be teenagers and that we weren't doing anything they never did at that age...

My point has basically been said already on this page several times -- don't worry too much about it, it's normal behavior. Maybe even laugh about it, try to remember what you were like as a teenager and when (maybe) you were caught in a similar situation?

Just make sure you don't do anything to damage the trusting relationship you have, and be careful to avoid driving this so far into taboo-ville that it becomes scarring for her, drives a rift between you, or makes her resort to bad decisions, sneaking around, etc.

Regarding her grades / school work: Love/infatuation tends to distract everybody -- not just teenagers. It's just a fact of nature, when you're in a new relationship it's pretty much all you can think about for a while. (I think I remember reading an article about infatuation which said that your brain chemistry literally changes temporarily to make you a bit obsessive for a while). Remember the first few weeks of any relationship you've ever been in? Unless her academic decline continues long-term, I wouldn't worry too much about it. After a few weeks her brain will start to return to normal and she'll be better equipped to make good decisions about balancing her school work and social life.

In the meantime, I wouldn't condone her grade slippage. Insist that she get her school work done at the same level she always did, maybe set some reasonable limits on when she can socialize (only after x amount of school work has been done), and take a more active interest in checking on her work for a while. I would NOT suggest being rigid, demanding, or unreasonable about this -- don't ban the boy from the house, take away privileges, ground her until her grades improve, etc. The more punitive you get the more she's going to feel she's being punished for making out.

(I don't mean to suggest that you are currently uninvolved. My parents were involved parents but they NEVER checked my schoolwork because I was an A student and they trusted me to get my work done. But if I had a sudden decline in grades for an obvious reason, I'm sure they would have interceded in order to help keep my priorities in line).

To sum it all up:

Support her in her relationship (as long as the kid treats her--and you--respectfully), and make sure you get to know him (in an accepting but "let's not forget I'm the grown-up here" way), and also get to know them as a couple by inviting him to spend time with the family. (Make sure to give them their share of private time too). Talk to your daughter and be involved in her academic progress for a while, and make sure she knows that it's OK be excited about a new relationship, but that this doesn't make all of her other responsibilities and goals disappear.

posted by Alabaster at 9:55 AM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Another point that may give you a little bit of comfort:

Your daughter knows damn well that the couch in the living room is a location with a very high risk for discovery. If she really wanted to have sex with this guy completely undisturbed, there's her bedroom, your bedroom, the backseat of his car, the woods, a cheap motel room, and every other god-awful scenario that haunts the minds of parents who remember teenage hormones.

But she picked the living room couch...which sure is an excellent way to put the brakes on should the boy get too frisky beyond her comfort level, plus it keeps the power dynamics in her favor, since it is unambiguously "her & her family's" turf.
posted by desuetude at 10:33 AM on October 9, 2008 [3 favorites]

This happened to my younger brother during high school…Mom walked in on the aftermath of a heated love-making session between him and his girlfriend. She went into full melt-down mode, and when Dad got home, he just about took my brother's head off, not so much for the indiscretion, but for being stupid enough to let Mom discover it.

Epilogue: This girl was probably the best thing that ever happened to my brother. Their third child heads off to college soon…

Relax. Tell your daughter you love her. Tell her you know she's not an idiot. If you've raised her right, she'll do the right thing.
posted by dinger at 10:41 AM on October 9, 2008

I don't mean to be facetious, is she not an adult, socially if not legally, and entitled to express her sexual and romantic drives without the interference of her parents? Certainly she still lives under your roof and perhaps should have kept it to a private space than the living room, but she is also an individual human being. I was grossly offended when my parents enquired about my behaviour when I was that age, which now that I'm a bit more than that age, I am aware was not bad or dangerous, but one of the first steps in a long and natural process of wanting and trying to move out of my birth family and into adulthood, to which I was perfectly entitled.

It sounds, additionally, like the boy is less perspicacious and mature than your daughter is. The army? Grades? He got caught with his pants down, so to speak. He is trying to make up for a loss in dignity in a way I wouldn't take seriously.
posted by iamnotateenagegirl at 10:57 AM on October 9, 2008

have mom take her to a gynecologist if you haven't already. get her on birth control and buy her condoms. this will not encourage her to have sex. it will encourage her to be responsible if she chooses to have sex.

posted by radioamy at 11:38 AM on October 9, 2008

But she picked the living room couch...which sure is an excellent way to put the brakes on should the boy get too frisky beyond her comfort level, plus it keeps the power dynamics in her favor, since it is unambiguously "her & her family's" turf.

desuetude's point is one that I would have made, too. Took the time to read every post, too. You sound like you've got mostly a good relationship with your daughter, and I'll echo everyone else that calm, respectful, open communication is the best way for you to allow her to keep a good relationship with you, and if you're both lucky, get good grades to get the scholarships, etc, etc. But as important as you think school is for her future, she might not have come to that realization yet. Making this about your goals for her may lead to resentment or just passive resistance. She has to figure out what she wants to do and why it is important to her.

My wife's parents were the authoritarian types who refused to allow her any latitude, including having an earlier curfew for her than for her brother "because he can't get pregnant." So at 15 she discovered that illicit sex can be had during daylight hours well before curfew. (Illicit in that her "scummy boy" was 21, she was 15).

When she was 17 and staying at my parent's house for a week (her brother was my best friend and they moved out of state when she was 14), we got caught by my mother as my wife was only partially covered on top with her shirt. Moms thought she had busted us just in time and gave us both a huge damnation and perdition speech--to this day (some 35 years later) we still get a laugh out of this because we'd already gone 'round all the bases. And yet we both still managed to earn advanced graduate degrees in our fields. And raise two fine young men.

We tried to instill ethical principles and open communication about sex with both our boys (even in America, it sure is harder for parents to raise girls, it seems), and we are proud of both of them; One funny scene was at a Tower record store checkout counter with one of those fishbowls of condoms. Mom & son are at the counter & mom grabs several of the candy-colored raincoats and hands them to our son, who acts as if hot lava has just been placed in his hand, saying in as sotto of a voce as he could muster "Mom, I'm not that popular."
posted by beelzbubba at 12:27 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

"What's the best way to handle this situation, in your opinion?"

Remember that what you do now determines the type of convalescent home she puts you in in a few short decades.
posted by mullingitover at 5:15 PM on October 9, 2008 [3 favorites]

My daughter was the original wild child and drama is her middle name. The thing about teenagers is that they live in adult-sized bodies but don't have the experience and judgment of adults. I think the most important thing is to separate the behavior from the person. As in "that behavior is unacceptable," (breaking the rules) but you still love them as a person.

Every kid is different and you have to figure out what motivates them. I've found the best way to find this out is by using sideways conversation. While she's working around the house with you, giver her some praise for it ("boy, I could never have done this without your help!") and then "I wish I knew why you were getting bad grades in school. I'm afraid you won't graduate/get into college and you'll be working at McDonald's the rest of your life." Then be quiet. You may have to repeat this several times on difference occasions and it might seem like they ignore you but it sinks in. Teenagers pay more attention to what you say than you think so couching it in a way that you are afraid of what might happen instead of accusing them won't carry the sting of condemnation.

The more attention you give to the drama, the more it happens. Some kids see that and they go for the Oscar, because it gives them lots of attention. The trick is to remember they are still young and they still crave that good attention and positive interaction, even if they roll their eyes and deny it. They really do want your love and approval, so keep laying it on no matter how difficult they're being at the moment. It's only a phase, it's only a phase, it's only a phase, is my mantra.

Does she like girly stuff? Take her for a pedicure (cheap at a beauty school) and sit with her and just talk and listen. Doing crafts? My daughter was really into making jewelry and friendship bracelets so I had her teach me how to make them. She still went through her wild phase, but now she's a working mom who was totally into breastfeeding and gardening and herbs (just like me). She's not a rocket scientist, but she is a responsible mother and contributing member of society, involved in doing charity work, etc. Some kids just don't want to be scholars and that's okay, as long as they're happy. I have a nephew who's whiz-bang intelligent and he'd rather work in a machine shop than study literature because he gets a kick out of doing stuff with his hands.

My son, almost 16, is into music, skateboarding, and cooking. I am now well-versed in the difference between a "blank deck," a Zoo York vs. an Enjoi vs. an Element, and I know he wants an Enjoi deck to replace his blank deck. He wants an amp. He wants to show off his scientific knowledge about the art of cooking and computer skills. Since teenagers think they know it all, I sometimes play dumb and ask him lots of questions about his favorite subjects and that opens a dialogue. I also give lots of praise where praise is due, i.e., "you make the best burgers I have ever tasted!" which gives him a chance to feel good and tell me his technique. They don't bring crayon drawings home when they're 16, but you can still find something to hang on the imaginary fridge no matter how badly you think they're doing. Even yakking on the phone, my daughter was "very nice to be so concerned about your friends."

The son also got really crappy grades last school year, skipped his English final and went to a Van Halen concert that night, and was very belligerent and nonchalant about the whole thing when he was caught out a couple of days later. Also possibly into smoking weed with some sketchy friends. I gave him a lecture, of course, but then I dropped it. Basically, it was, "you are better than that, and that behavior will not be tolerated." We spent a lot of time together this summer and then I told him he has to check in with dad and I (we are divorced and he goes back and forth) to make sure his homework is done, where he is, who he's hanging out with, etc. Also got with his dad to work out a strategy and we are both on the same page as to what will be tolerated and what won't be. Of course, we still have drivers ed to hang over his head and good grades = cheaper car insurance. Bad grades = NO drivers ed. Maybe you could take phone privileges away for a while, curtail activities, dangle some designer jeans as a prize, etc.

I did not think any of the stuff I'd lectured him about had sunk in, but he came up with A's on his report card just now and I was flabbergasted.

In short: it took a lot of delicate probing, lots and lots of time spent engaging him in conversation, and a willingness to listen to him vent ("Dad is so lame, he never gives me money!" after Dad bought him the Van Halen tickets) and keeping my mouth shut. Also, I am not afraid to be the bad guy and say no. Can you structure her afternoons for something like snack, then homework and you have to see the homework before she has phone time or friend time? My daughter had to call me every day and have her homework done before she was allowed to go out.

Every conversation is ended with "I love you." No matter what, angry or happy, every single conversation is ended with "I love you."

I would invite that boy over for dinner and get to know him. He might find the thrill is gone if you treat him as a long lost son and hover a lot. I'd also be on the phone to his parents and have a long convo with them so they have a heads up in case they decide to move their activities over there. As far as sex, I got my daughter Our Bodies, Ourselves, taught her about birth control, told her to come to me for such if she was even thinking about going all the way, and made sure she had access to condoms for STD protection. We decided on the shot because I figured a kid who couldn't remember to pick up their wet towel couldn't be trusted to remember a pill every day. Also long talks about how her body is her own and no one can touch it if it makes her feel uncomfortable, she can always say "no." But you sound like you have that info covered already.

And don't forget to hug her in front of her friends at the mall. Totally the best part about being the mother of a teenager.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:49 AM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

For those interested:

We sat her down and explained we were most pissed about the volition of one the few house rules she has and that in no way was that rule relaxing at this point. She's grounded completely grounded for week. We went over the information about sex again, the importance about being intimate with people who care for you vs those who don't, but ultimately, it was her choice and she should choose wisely.We'll get her a box of condoms and make sure has a video or two about how to put them on. There's some things we just can't teach her directly, you know?

We talked about other things such what she enjoys doing and whether she doing that. She isn't, so we worked out a plan to get her doing more of that thing. We told her that we love her and are proud of the person she is, that what she was doing was normal, that we where teenagers too and got caught and came out ok, and that this incident won't be the defining moment of our relationship.

Then we teased her about not bothering to lock the front door and that in the future it would probably be better if we didn't first meet her boyfriend while they were making out on the living room couch.

Thanks all.
posted by stanleystanley at 12:25 PM on October 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

Sounds awesome! I'd love to hear how she reacted, if this ever gets followed up.
posted by amtho at 9:08 PM on October 10, 2008

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