Raising your daughter

Sugar and spice and all things nice... or moods and malice and meanness? What is your daughter made of? How can you support, guide and enjoy her?

My 15 year old daughter and her boyfriend are getting serious...

Written by Susan Whitfield on 12/04/2011

Q. My daughter is 15 (16 in Sept) and, up until last year, I was pleased that we seemed able to talk about most things including alcohol, drugs and sex. She now has a boyfriend and although she had said she didn’t want to have sex and ‘ wasn’t stupid’, I now find she had done just that. And, despite our conversations – and classes at her school which cover safety, legality etc, it was unprotected. For her boyfriend it was the first time too. I need advice as to how to deal with this. I have not lost my temper, banned her from seeing him but tried to repeat all of the things she knows already. However I am afraid that by not taking a stronger line, I am almost encouraging her to do it again and yet if I do get tough, she will not communicate with me in future. How do I deal with this?

A. There are several important issues here. One is that you maintain as much of an open relationship with your daughter as possible, so she will know that you have no wish to pry into her private life but are very much available to her if she would like to talk anything over with you.

In practical terms you should ensure she has access to proper medical advice, potentially in confidence if she does not want to tell you about it. She may also be able to talk to her school nurse about any concerns. She needs to really understand that there is not just the risk of pregnancy but also of disease, so if she has a physical relationship she (and her boyfriend) must consider both. They could go the family planning website (www.fpa.org.uk) for advice, and to find their nearest clinic. If they went there, they would get the best advice and whatever they needed.

On an emotional level, perhaps you can at some appropriate time have a conversation in which the two of you can discuss the pros and cons of the two of them having a physically active relationship, she may find this very helpful. While there is plenty of bombardment of young people with pressure to have sex, many might actually prefer a romantic friendship. They are both very young, and there is so much enjoyment to be had in each other’s company without the sometimes heavy issues which can come from sex. You should not stand back so far that you are actually encouraging her to think it is normal and right if that is not your view. The age of 16 for consent was brought in as a child protection measure, and they both need to know this.

She still needs the right disciplinary measures imposed by you – when she can go out, how the two of them behave in front of others, and so on. You must still protect her sleep and her ability to study, so that this romance will not damage her education. Ensure that she invites him around so you get to know him, and so she sees him against the backdrop of her family values. In this way she will be less likely to see him purely as someone she has sex with, but as a friend as well as a romantic partner at this time in her life. The two of them may be revising for exams this year – try to encourage them to use their relationship to help each of them do even better than they would have otherwise done. Encourage her to be seeing him with other friends around, so she does not lose her other friendships as a result of this relationship, and help her not to let it become too intense. It is likely to fade, and she will need her other friendships to rely on then.

The step she has taken may be bigger for you than for her, in terms of your relationship. It is obviously a big shock – and for each of us as parents, there are plenty of these in store as our children get older. We probably gave the same sort of number to our own parents. But do not define her by it – try as much as you can to treat her as you always have. This is a new form of intimacy for her, and whilst it is no doubt exciting, she may be a bit alarmed by the fall-out of the unprotected nature of her first encounter. It may have been triggered by a bit of alcohol lowering her level of good sense. Try to ensure, if the subject comes up, that she feels she has the personal confidence only to be involved with her boyfriend to the extent that she wants to be, and let her know that romance can be a bumpy road, and her various friends’ knowledge and advice may not always be accurate, so it is worth knowing how to access the knowledge and care of professionals, for the sake of her physical and emotional health and that of her boyfriend. Above all, give her a hug when you can, and ensure that she knows that you are her mum, you love her, and she can always rely on your help.

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There is a great novel aimed at teens by Nick Hornby called SLAM which recounts the unfortunate results of an early unprotected sexual experience. It is not preachy, very readable and certainly food for thought. Recommended reading for any teens at this stage.

By Claire Jauffret on Tuesday 19 April 2011

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