My daughter is not being honest with me about meeting boys

Work to keep lines of communication open as children switch to needing more privacy

“In their journey to independence, it is normal for teenagers to pull back from their parents and to become more private about certain aspects of their lives.”

“In their journey to independence, it is normal for teenagers to pull back from their parents and to become more private about certain aspects of their lives.”

 

My 14-year-old daughter is not telling me the whole truth about who she has been meeting when she has gone out to link up with friends recently.  

I received a call from a mother (also my friend) of one of her good friends yesterday, concerned that they have been meeting boys they met from the Gaeltacht who are older (second year), than they have been telling us. Her daughter told her, but when I try to find out from my daughter, without betraying the source of my suspicions, who else she has been meeting, my daughter does not tell me.

My concern is also that she and this friend made their way to one of the boys’ houses and were invited in for breakfast by the boys – but their parents did not allow them in. So she is also straying from the places we agreed she could go to.

My question is: do I betray my source to let my daughter know that I am aware she is not telling the truth and am worried? She is now saying that she bumped into these boys when in town and hadn’t prearranged the meeting. 

She doesn’t tell me everything, and I don’t expect her to, but honesty is really important to me and I’m doubting her other stories. We are allowing her more independence, but this episode is worrying me and my husband. We are trying to stay calm and hoping she will come clean, but this isn’t happening. I don’t want this to become a wall between us. She is our only child, and while we have our bad times, we usually have an open, chatty relationship.

I’m not against her having boys as friends; it’s just that I don’t know who they are. Of course I worry that she might get into a situation she was not prepared for. She assures me that they are really good friends and that’s it, but I’m doubting everything now. What should I do?

Be honest about what you know

In their journey to independence, it is normal for teenagers to pull back from their parents and to become more private about certain aspects of their lives. In particular, teenagers may not want to share all the specific details of their emerging sexuality and their romantic crushes and relationships with their parents.

While you of course do not want to encourage outright lying, it is important to accept a degree of privacy as normal. Sometimes this switch to more privacy can be a gradual change taking place over a year and sometimes it can dramatically change, with with the usually chatty and open child suddenly becoming a sullen and uncommunicative teenager. These changes should not mean that you give up trying to communicate with your teenager but they do mean that you have to work harder to keep the lines of communication open.

You are in a difficult situation, whereby you have a different source for the story of how your daughter met the boys. Rather than “protecting” your source, I would suggest that the priority should be opening up a more honest conversation with your daughter.

Rather than identifying inconsistencies in what she is saying (which will make you doubt the trust in your relationship), I would suggest that you try to be more up-front with her about what you know. For example, you might say: “I was talking to [the friend’s mother] the other day, and she told me about how you met the boys from the Gaeltacht.” Though you can do this subtly and pick a good time to start this conversation, coming clean about what you know will help her come clean about what she knows.

Reflect on what you need to know

It is important to reflect what you need to know and what you can let your daughter choose to tell you. Your focus as the parent should be on safety, and you do need to know where your daughter is going and who she will be with. Tell your daughter this up front, expressing it in terms of how much you care for her and not just your parental responsibility.

“Look, I need you to tell me where you are going so I know you are safe.” Or: “I can only let you go out if I can trust that you are safe.” Some rules are of course appropriate, and the ideal is to explain and negotiate these in advance with your daughter. Discussion about rules in advance of situations gives you an opportunity check out daughter’s understanding of safety. 

Listen

While of course your daughter has a right to some privacy, this does not mean that you should not invite her to tell you more about what happened when she was out. The more she shares with you about her life the more you will feel connected to her and the better this will be for your relationship with each other.

The key is to listen first when she does open up. If she does tell you something you are worried about, don’t immediately react negatively and instead try to encourage her to share more details. See your job as helping her sort things out herself rather than solving things for her. This is best way to influence her, keep her safe and maintain a connection with her.

Going forward, it is worth thinking about how you can continue to build your relationship with her. For a 14-year-old you might have to adapt your approach. Think about how you can set up new routines, activities and times during the day which allow you to have enjoyable times together when you can talk and chat.

John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD school of psychology. He has published 14 books including Positive Parenting.  solutiontalk.ie

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