My fifteen-year-old daughter went to a party last Saturday night, after which she had a ‘sleepover’ at her friend’s house. She does this so often I’m wondering when she’s going to stop calling it a sleepover and just say she’s crashing at her friend’s. At what age does this crossover in language happen I wonder?
My seventeen-year-old son popped in on Sunday afternoon with the dramatic news that he had seen her at dad’s, and she was covered in bruises.
‘I did my big brother stuff Mum’ he said, ‘I asked her if she’d been beaten up but she said no.’
‘Oh good’ I said, raising my eyebrows slightly, shaking my head and returning to my lap-top. I know what you’re supposed to think when it’s teenage daughters rather than teenage sons you hear about in this kind of story, but over the course of four children I’ve trained myself not to jump to immediate fear whenever I hear anything frightening. Otherwise I’d be a wreck by now.
Anyway, when she got home I told her I’d heard about the bruises and my son bounded in and exclaimed ‘The one on your forehead has gone though! And the one below your eye!’
‘Yes but look at my knees!’ said my daughter proudly, rolling up her trousers. ‘And my elbow!’
My son and I then bombarded her with questions:
‘What happened?? Were you beaten up?? Were you really really drunk??’ What HAPPENED??’ until she was giggling and protesting ‘No! No! I just fell over when I was dancing!’
Every so often throughout the rest of the evening she would suddenly snort and say ‘You don’t believe it do you Mum? You don’t believe I was beaten up? Honestly, I wasn’t!’
I believe her/don’t believe her about the falling over/not being drunk, but it doesn’t really matter. She’s fifteen, she’s entitled to her private life and I don’t have the absolute right to know all the details.
I know that when I was fifteen I had to take elaborate precautions to shield my parents from the truth, I told a lot of lies and I sometimes pretended I was staying at friends’ houses just so I could stay out really late. Once, I asked my sisters to sneak downstairs after my parents had gone to bed and secretly unlock the back door so I could get back in sometime in the early hours, and they forgot. So I spent 6 freezing hours leaning against the side wall of the house until I saw first my dad and then my mum leave in the morning to catch their buses to work.
Whether I believe everything my daughter says or not, I totally trust her. I trust that she is busy getting on with being a fifteen-year-old. I trust that she is experiencing new things, finding her way, taking risks, working things out, making mistakes and sometimes falling flat on her face (literally it seems). She would be doing all those things anyway, she might as well have my feeling of trust behind her, rather than my anxiety and suspicion.
I have allowed my three boys total freedom as they have moved through their teenage years, and I find that my attitude is the same with my daughter. I thought I might feel more anxious about her, but I don’t. I suspect that more people would judge me as irresponsible when it comes to my daughter, but that doesn’t bother me. I know that teenagers are busy doing two very important things: one is taking risks and the other is developing thinking, reasoning and decision-making skills, and that you can’t have one without the other. The risk-taking is important and if we try to keep our teenagers on a tight rein, the other bit takes longer to develop too.
I think we do a disservice to our teenage daughters when we allow them less freedom than our teenage sons: over-protection disadvantages them in the world. Our challenge is to manage our own anxiety, not dump it on them. Because in the end I would rather my daughter learned skills and street-smarts in the real world than use up all that energy in trying to get round me.
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