Imagine going in to see your physician and when the doctor asks you what the problem is, you say, “Doctor, it’s my daughter’s boyfriend. He’s got a sore throat.” The physician would look at you like you were crazy. The doctor can’t treat a patient who isn’t even present! However, it happens in therapy all the time. Parents come to me, as a teen therapist, and ask me to do something about their daughter’s boyfriend.
You cannot treat a patient who is not present, so I begin with whoever is present and tell them how they can change their own behavior to begin to remedy the problem. If the parents are the only people who are bothered by the relationship, they are the only ones who are going to benefit from therapy. Here are several different explanations for why a sweet little girl might get herself entangled with a ‘bad boy,’ and what parents can do to try to influence their daughter in a positive manner.
- Controlling Dad/Husband – When a little girl grows up with a daddy who is very strong, who runs the household, who steers the family decisions, and who directs the family’s finances, she may just get used to a man running the show and seek that out in her relationships. If you’re a dad who has been essentially controlling most aspects of your daughter’s life until this point, you’ve got to accept that you helped create this dynamic. If you want to interrupt it, you’ve got to start letting your daughter make important personal choices for herself, even when they wouldn’t be the same ones you’d make for her. If you try to choose her boyfriends for her, you’re just continuing the dynamic and making it more likely for her to choose a boy who will do the same to her.
- Chameleon Mom – When a girl grows up with a mother who continually gives herself away to men, she learns that a woman should change herself to be with a man, and you can expect that the teen will try to become whoever her boyfriend wants her to be. Moms who don’t want that for their daughters have to show them how it’s done by holding onto themselves in their relationships with men.
- Exciting Change – You can do everything right and provide a wonderful household and a young lady still might like to try something different and exciting when she gets old enough to make her own decisions. In that case, support, supervise, and stand nearby to pick up the pieces without any “I told you so’s.”
- Overlooking Faults – If you’ve trained your daughter not to not see your faults, by making certain topics off-limits, like your own drinking or gambling, you need to expect that she’ll do the same for her boyfriend. His pot smoking and cheating with other girls will be overlooked, just like you taught her. To help, you can role model taking responsibility for your own negative actions and changing problematic behaviors in yourself that you don’t want to see her accept in a partner.
- Overprotected – If you never let a kid try risky things, they’ll save it all up for when you’re not looking and they may be attracted to the most dangerous of fellows. To ward this off, it’s okay to let a kid safely try a risky thing or two, under your care and supervision, or with you being somewhat nearby, over the entire course of her childhood, so she doesn’t have to save it all up for when she turns 15.
- Dependant / Spoiled – If you do everything for a kid, eventually they realize that Mommy and Daddy can’t do it forever and that they’re going to have to find a replacement. A sporty young fellow with a job and an attitude is a fine candidate. If you want to help her stand on her own, you’ve got to teach her the value of working to get what she wants vs. just getting what she wants ‘cause she’s so darned cute.
- Compassionate – Not every seemingly bad boy is a complete mess. Some are lovely young men who blossom with the proper care and attention from a young lady. Your daughter may have found one of those and she needs the chance to check out that possibility without your continual criticism. If you aren’t sure what kind of guy he is, get to know him better.
There are a variety of explanations for why a young lady might get herself involved with a ‘bad boy,’ several of which probably started when she was 18 months old. Nothing can be done to change the past. Parents must accept the patterns of behavior that they may have put into place and do their best to change their own contributing behaviors. Additionally, they can help their children with whatever the consequences of those patterns may be without being judgmental towards the kids who are just doing what they’ve been taught or what comes naturally to them.