Dear Dr. Meg,
I have an 18-year-old daughter involved in unhealthy relationships. She feels that she must have a boyfriend. She has been involved with different guys in a short period of time. She does sexual things with these guys, including oral, fingering, and a number of other things. She seems to think love is sex and continues to run from guy to guy. She is constantly tied to her cell phone and sexting with these boys. We, her parents, have talked to her and encouraged her often and prayed for her. It saddens our hearts to see her ruin her life and be used by boys who don’t love or care about her. She is very secretive and believes she is making adult decisions. HELP!
Dear Saddened Mom,
Your daughter is desperately seeking attention and affirmation from men. Most girls seek attention when they feel they aren’t getting enough of the right type of attention from their fathers; when they have experienced sexual abuse, if they are insecure, or if they have friends who hook up with boys. Regardless why she does this, the remedy is the same as it is for all promiscuous teens. She needs more healthy attention from both you and her father.
Our culture over-sexualizes children, telling them that sexual experimentation is risk-free.
Our culture over-sexualizes children and adults, telling them that sexual experimentation is risk-free, healthy and should be encouraged. None of these are true and it is your job to inform her of this. Here’s what I would do if she were my daughter.
First, you and her father must spend more time with her. She will give you push back but that is okay. Ask her to do things with you on the weekends – such as going out to dinner. It is particularly important that her father spends as much time with her as he can. We parents incorrectly believe that our teenagers don’t want to be with us, but that is far from the truth. They need more time with us and less time with friends, particularly if they are struggling with an issue as serious as sexual promiscuity.
Teenagers and young adults often act out in order to see if a parent cares enough to fight for them.
Second, you need to be stronger in your communication. Tell her that while you don’t judge her behavior, it is harmful, wrong and will lead her to heartache, disease and probably depression. Be firm about this and make no bones about it. Often teenagers act out in order to see if a parent cares enough to tell them to stop. They are dying for someone to be strong enough to stand up to them and let them know that their behavior is wrong. Even older teens and young adults act very immaturely in order to see if someone will fight for them (because they don’t feel they can fight for themselves). I would treat her sexual behavior as seriously as if she were taking drugs. It is, indeed, life threatening. I have spoken with many young women who have contracted HIV through promiscuous sex, and your daughter needs to know that this is a real possibility.
If your daughter were taking drugs, how would you respond? You would, I hope, never let up on her until she got help. You would pursue her, tell her that you love her and that you will be unrelenting in your effort to help her change her destructive behavior. In fact, your husband should insist on meeting these guys she dates (unless she is off at college and this is impossible). This will embarrass your daughter, but who cares? She will know one thing: her father is fighting for her. I guarantee that will make her feel loved and maybe, just maybe, she’ll stop this bad behavior.
Parents should treat their teens’ sexual promiscuity as seriously as if they were taking drugs.
Many parents throw their hands up believing that all kids act this way and that this is normal. Don’t do this – because those parents are wrong. They are afraid to fight for their children. This is war and your daughter needs you to fight for her because she doesn’t have a clue how dangerous this is. Many adults, even psychologists, will tell you that this is “normal, experimental teen behavior” and that exploring one’s sexuality is healthy. This is nonsense. I have seen it all, and I have never seen a promiscuous teen who is happy. They grow into adults who deal with diseases, infertility, depression and sometimes PTSD.
One final word. Tell your daughter this: 20 million Americans contract a new sexually transmitted disease every year in the U.S. and the vast majority don’t know they have it. She will be one of those folks. And then tell her that there are over 30 STDs now and many people who have one, have multiple. If you don’t want to have such a frank discussion, pick out sections of my book Your Kids at Risk and find a few pages for her to read that show what the CDC says about teens and sex. The numbers will scare the pants off of her.
This is tough parenting and there is no room for equivocation. Be strong, loving and firm, and she will thank you one day.