Reader asks: Help! What do you do when you
don't like the behavior of your son's first `real' girlfriend? She
blatantly ignores time limits set by both sets of parents and
behaves rudely to hers. Then, the relationship continues for much
longer than you imagined it would ... not just two weeks or two
months, but a LONG time-almost a year!
I'm sure it's difficult to wrap your head around your
son's first foray into couple-hood, let alone manage the
challenging behavior you describe, but my advice is the same no
matter the nature of kids' connections or even their
Whether your son is 4 or 14, try to see this situation as
an opportunity to encourage him to discern what matters to him in
relationships. Ask him how he thinks things are going. How does he
feel about how she treats her parents? Is he concerned that she
might treat him in similar ways eventually? Why or why not? Be
careful not to grill him, and bear in mind that this conversation
might go over best in installments-as you're walking the dog
together, for example, or riding somewhere in the car.
Tread lightly at first and look for signals from your son
about his readiness to talk.
But sometimes the talk can't wait, signal or no signal.
Sometimes limits need to be set (that they meet up in groups vs.
1:1, for example) and consequences meted out. Whatever consequence
you choose, though, be prepared to follow through.
This is difficult for most of us. Sometimes we conjure
impossible consequences when we're frustrated, like, "Do that again
and you'll go to your room for the rest of your life!" When we come
to our senses and cave, our children get the idea that they simply
can keep on with whatever behavior inspired concern in the first
place. Moral of the story? Consider consequences carefully and pick
only those you can live with. Making them natural and logical helps
to reinforce the lesson you want your child to learn. For example,
want your son home by 9, but he shows up at 9:15? Let him know that
you're glad he's enjoying his friendships but that he'll be docked
for every minute he's late. The next time he wants to spend time
with friends, he must be home by 8:45.
Unless you suspect that your child's safety is in
question, resist the urge to try and squash this relationship (or
any friendship), as this may only result in your child digging in
his heels and developing a defiant posture, perhaps even
maintaining the appearance of a connection with this friend even
after it has already cooled and is headed toward its natural
But not all of them end. Some early relationships are
simply learning experiences, but don't forget about those couples
married 50 years who met in middle school. It happens, so remember
that the seeds you sow in your relationship with your son's
girlfriend could bear fruit for years to come. But if their
connection isn't forever, those seeds still will bear fruit in your
rapport with your son.
Disconcerting as this may be, try and relish the
opportunity you have here: you get to help your son sort through
all of these issues.
Surviving adolescence, that bridge from child to
adulthood, can be challenging for both children and parents. We're
the experts and `in charge' where our kids are concerned. But
eventually, after a little necessary trial-and-error, they'll
become the authority in all things `them'-and we need to get out of
their way and let them.
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.
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