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BOUNDARIES IN THE TEEN YEARS

She is pushing back against you and your rules as she grows into her own. She is supposed to be doing this. It’s normal. It's part of the process of her becoming independent from you and moving into the world on her own. She’s not your little girl anymore. Good for her, hard for you. She will make mistakes. They will be hard to watch. Help her learn from them.

 

It will be hard to know when to say yes and when to say no. Before I say no, I make sure I have a decent reason. Something explainable. I noticed that sometimes I would say no for no other reason than I just didn’t feel like dealing with whatever (which is ok sometimes too, we all get tired). I’ve learned that if that’s the case, it’s best to say yes. Why? Because the more I say yes, the easier it is for my daughters to accept no. Find little things to say yes to. 

No is a tricky word. If I don't trust her to go into the world and explore, she will become angry and defiant, and stop telling me the truth. And start sneaking out in the middle of the night. It happens. Use no wisely.  

PICK YOUR BATTLES: The best parenting advice I got was in foster family training. The trainer said, if you pick a fight, you have to win. Because if you pick one and lose, she will learn you can be rolled. Pick wisely. This, I admit, is easier said than done. We don’t always get it right.

One day, my two daughters were fighting with each other in the car. "STOP THE FIGHTING," I say with enthusiasm and predictable results. I decided to pick this fight, this is not ok. It's my car, right?

 

The conventional threats of grounding, etc. were unsuccessful, so I decided on something drastic. I told them that if they didn't stop, I was going to get out of the car at the next light and sing opera. "Yeah right," they think as the fight continues. So I did. At the next light, I put the car in park, walk around to the front, and begin to sing opera. I don't sing. Anything. So, in addition to their dad being a fool, the singing was awful. It was hilarious (to me) watching them disappear into the bottom of the car. The fighting stopped. From then on, all I had to do was threaten to sing opera. This is advanced parenting, be careful. We still laugh about it. 

Your days of being smarter than her are just about over, but you can still prevail. Be creative.

WRANGLER WISDOM: Heather, a wrangler friend at Wind River Ranch, told me a story about her dad. When she was a teenager, she liked a boy that her dad would not let her date. Why? He said the boy wouldn’t treat her well. At the time, Heather was furious. Years later, though, she told me he was right and appreciates the stand he took.

 

She had a friend who started dating a boy who was just out of prison. Her friend’s dad said nothing about her choice, and it did not go well. Heather’s friend told her later she wished her dad had said something back then to protect her the way Heather’s dad had.

 

Heather—who has a way of boiling things down to the point—told me this: A dad needs to have the guts to say no." She’s right. And dad, you'll get a lot of practice at that in the teen years if you're doing it right.

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YOUR NEW NORMAL

One day you are going to look up and it’s going to hit you: your little girl is not your little girl anymore. It will surprise you. When did that happen? Hips, breasts, hormones, moods, boys. The teen years, the best years of parenting….said no parent ever.

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SHE’S HAVING HER PERIOD

Both my girls had their first period with me. Alone. Single dad. Awkward. If there was a mom around, I would have headed for the gym. But I’m glad I didn’t. I learned a lot about what it’s like to be a woman in the world by being there for them when this started.

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SHUT UP AND LISTEN

It’s been a three year journey since I found Elizabeth on the floor of her bathroom that morning. She’s better now. She still has struggles, but she is better. We talk about important things now, the real stories. It wasn’t my fault she attempted suicide, but why  didn’t I know how desperate she was? I wasn’t listening closely enough. 

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The studies are clear: authority is not a threat to your relationship with her. It will bring you closer. Troubled kids are not the kids with strict dads. They are the ones that feel left on their own. Troubled kids describe dads who did not have rules. Dads who avoided conflict rather than engaging. They describe fathers who gave into them rather than standing up to them and for them.

 

You may have to say no to booty shorts. Or a boy. Or a party. Don’t always delegate this to Mom. Do it.

 

You might have to show up at a party and bring her home. You may have to take her phone away and kill Snap-chat. (It has nine lives, be careful, kids are clever.) Do it.

 

She wants and needs you to set boundaries though she will never admit it. Reasonable boundaries around what she wears, social media time, homework, curfew, what parties she can go to. She needs to know where her world ends. Show her that the way her world gets bigger is by making good choices and earning trust.

PHONES: I think social media is a bane on mental health and a vexation to life, in general. But it is what it is. Her phone is your lifeline to her and her connection to the world. My efforts to regulate it largely failed and though taking her phone away is an effective punishment, it also punishes the parent who can no longer communicate with her. I never really figured this out - if you did, please go the contact Bob page and share how so we can learn from you. 

One thing I strongly encourage, however, is insisting on a tracker app. 

One night my fifteen-year-old daughter Rachel was out past curfew and not answering messages. I drove to the last place I knew she was based on her tracker app (before she turned off her phone). The girl there knew who she left with. I asked her to send a text to the boy that said, “If I don’t hear from my daughter in 10 minutes, I’m calling the police and giving them your number.” I got a call back in 30 seconds. Rachel was mad for a week.

DAD TIP#1 ON PHONES: Buy her a decent phone and make the installation of a tracker app non-negotiable. This is for safety and  emergencies - don't stalk her every move! Don't pester her with questions about her location all the time or she will become rebellious and offended, and rightfully so.  And find ways to defeat the app.

 

This has helped me with more than a few legitimate emergencies. I said "decent" phone because battery life matters - a dead phone is no good to you or to her and teenagers have a learning disability related to chargers. 

 

WHICH LEADS TO DAD TIP#2 ON PHONES: Have an agreement with her that if she gets in trouble, you will pick her up. Anytime, anywhere, no questions asked, no lectures given. She's not going to ask you for help if she expects to get yelled at. Emergencies are about getting her to safety - lessons are for later. If she doesn't know where she is, see TIP #1. This happened to me. 

BOYS: One time Rachel came home with two hickeys on her neck. I know the boy that put them there, not a bad kid. I told her I wanted to talk to him. To my surprise, she brought her phone over to me. “He’s on the line,” she said.

 

“Hunter, did you put hickeys on my daughters’ neck?" He stuttered and stammered. “Hunter, I know you put hickeys on my daughters’ neck.” “Yes Mr. Belknap.”

 

“Hunter, don’t do that again. Boys do that. Men don’t do that. If you want to date my daughter, be a man.” “OK, Mr. Belknap,” he said. “That’s good Hunter, because if you put another hickey on her neck, I’m going to put one on yours!” “That will not be necessary!” he said with enthusiasm. Funny thing is, Rachel later told me that he asked if I would actually do it. She told him probably not?. A little fear and uncertainty properly applied can produce good results. 

 

Dads, be clear with the boys your daughter brings home about what you expect. Treat them with respect, and expect them to do the same with your daughter. Don’t leave it for them to guess, though. Tell them. As dads of girls, we have an opportunity to help boys grow into young men. To support them as they walk that path from boyhood to manhood the right way. Take that opportunity. Trust me, the boys will listen to you. In fact, you might be surprised to see how well they respond to being given a job to do.

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DAD TIP FOR DEALING WITH BOYS: I do the same thing every time a new boy comes by to take one of my daughters out. I ask them to look at her and tell me what they see. This creates confusion, so I help by saying, "What I see is she's not broken, bruised, hickeyed, stitched, drugged, alcoholed, pregnant, or damaged in any way I know of. Your job is to bring her home in the same condition. Can you do that for me?" I've never been turned down. One boy after a date came in with her and proudly demonstrated her good condition. Or maybe he was just scared, hard to tell ... Give boys a job to do, you may be surprised by the result. 

 

Sometimes you’ll find situations that require, let's say, a firmer approach.

Once on a flight to Las Vegas with my daughters, a young man across the aisle had 5 drinks in two hours and put two more in his pocket. He became louder and more obnoxious during the flight. When we got off the plane, he approached Elizabeth. Their phones were out, and they were exchanging phone numbers. Or Snap-chat. Who knows? Drunk but cute, she could not resist. I told him to take a hike. After a brief man versus boy staring contest, he left.

 

My daughters were furious and wanted me to apologize because I embarrassed them. Still, deep down, I knew I’d sent a message I want them to carry all their lives: they are worth standing up for. They deserve to feel and be protected. I did not apologize.

 

It boils down to this: You hold enormous power in this relationship, Dad. Use it to serve her needs and prosper her life. You are her leader. If you fail to lead her, you will lose her respect. If you lose her respect, she will stop listening to you. She will not follow your rules. She will become one of those kids in crisis. You will lose her.

TIM AND CAITLIN: “Around age 16, my daughter Caitlin fell in with the wrong crowd, and unknown to me and my wife, began sneaking out at night and drinking. On one of these nights, we got wind of her attendance at a party hosted by group of college-aged boys renting a large home. I got the address and walked into the home full of kids, every room blaring with music and raucous activity, some of which was blatantly inappropriate.

I found her in a room upstairs with 4 or 5 boys, walked in, grabbed her by the hand, and removed her from the house while the place went stone silent at my parental intrusion. Caitlin was embarrassed and angry. But sometime not too long after, she admitted that she was grateful I cared enough to do what I did. It was a watershed moment in my parenting and our relationship – in an unexpected way, it brought us closer together. Years later we retell the story and laugh.”

 

It takes guts to say no. It takes guts to walk into a house full of kids and stand in the storm. Do what Tim did. 

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