The following was written for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at TheForum@Fatherly.com.
Every time I tell someone my daughter is 14, they give me this “I feel sorry,” for you kind of look. “You’re going to be in for it,” is the typical response, followed by a consoling tap on my shoulder.
I get it. She’s a teenager now. She’s also in her first year of high school where friends mean more than food and the need to impress or fit in is a desired characteristic. Do I worry? Of course, I do. I worry like any other parent worries about their child. But do I feel compelled to have this grand conversation with my daughter about why she should abstain from sex? Not really, to be honest.
I know some people might think I’m crazy. Maybe not crazy, but perhaps being a bit lax about what is really a crucial topic for teens. While I do acknowledge that the topic of sex for teenagers is vital, I don’t feel like I need to have a specific conversation just about sex.
I test myself sometimes. I grill myself to make sure that I’m just not afraid of bringing up the subject or that I’m putting it off because I really don’t want to know what my daughter has to say or has already done (please, no!). But one of the benefits of being a young parent with a teenage daughter is that we share a connection that could only come from me being the age that I am.
I only mention that because my daughter and I are always conversating. We speak about music, her friends, art, lipgloss, and a whole bunch of other odd things. We argue about whose IG page looks cooler and about the filter Kim Kardashian uses in her pics. We discuss why it’s better to study for tests out loud rather than in your head, and that being social at school is just as important as maintaining a 4.0 GPA.
I’m not going to be looking over her shoulder every time she’s in a tough spot. She’s going to make mistakes.
One of the not so odd things that I regularly bring up in our conversations is respect.
“Be yourself,” is my favorite piece of advice. “You know who you are, you know what you’re comfortable doing and not doing, so just always be yourself.”
After that, I pretty much trust her to do her thing. I’m not going to tell her “don’t have sex or else.” I actually don’t believe that’s the right thing any parent should be telling their child. The fact is my daughter has her own personality. While her decision making may not be the best as a teenager (who am I kidding, her decision making sucks,) I still don’t feel pressured to have a conversation directly about her having sex.
I’ll give an example. Over the holidays, I allowed my daughter to go to her cousin’s birthday/new year’s eve party. Her cousin turned 16 and was having the party at her home. Making things more interesting was the fact it would be a sleepover party. Her mother would be there the entire time, but that didn’t stop my own mother from questioning my sanity.
“Are you crazy,” were the exact words from my mother’s mouth. My daughter and I were there for the holidays, so I found myself having to explain parenting decisions to my own parent. My mother just couldn’t understand what I was thinking. She thought there was too much that could go wrong by letting her go. Too much temptation and potential bad influences.
I didn’t see it that way. What I saw was my child growing up. A young girl becoming a young woman. Was I throwing her into the fire by letting her go to a 16-year-old’s sleepover on new year’s? Probably. But I actually think there’s more to be gained by letting her explore than by trying to shield her too much from the inevitable.
My mother just couldn’t understand what I was thinking.
The truth is that I’m not going to be there to make all her decisions. I’m not going to be looking over her shoulder every time she’s in a tough spot. She’s going to make mistakes. She’s going to mess up. But I’m fine with that. It’s part of her finding out who she is not who I want her to be.
I’m proud to say that she survived the party. She told me what a good time she had and I’m happy. Did I make the right decision? Who knows. What I do know is that I trust my daughter and I’m not afraid to say that out loud. I’m confident I’ve instilled the right values and that no matter the situation, she’ll ultimately remember who she is.