Dear Dr. G.,
My husband and I are not seeing eye to eye on this one. I heard you on the radio talking about teen relationships so we agreed to ask for your opinion on our disagreement. You see, I already doubt myself and I doubt myself even more when my husband disagrees with me. He tends to be the calmer of the two of us.
Here is the problem:
My 13-year-old daughter has a boyfriend -- whatever that means. I don't think that they even see each other much. I think they text and email and basically communicate like kids do these days. Well, recently this boy has been texting my daughter that he loves her. I check my daughter's emails and Facebook and she knows this, so this isn't the main problem between us. I wonder if it is normal for a 13-year-old boy to be expressing love at such a young age.
Lately, this boy has been showing signs of possessiveness. He gets mad at my daughter if she talks to her male friends. He also -- get this -- got jealous when she attended her 11-year-old brother's birthday party, asking her if she found any of these boys cute. I thought that that was pretty creepy. Even more recently, he has started texting my daughter repeatedly asking for her whereabouts. I'm sorry, but this boy scares me. He just seems too intense for his age.
I have not said anything to my daughter yet about my opinion even though she has confided in me about some of this boy's demands. My husband says to let it go -- that this is puppy love and that if I push her to get away from this boy that that will only make her want him more.
Your opinion, please?
A Concerned Mother
First let me say that I am always happy when parents are talking to each other and not tuning each other out and making unilateral decisions. Good for you and your husband!
Now about this boy. I, too, have concerns about him. It is not one single behavior that I am concerned about, but the whole package of behaviors. You asked if it is normal for a 13-year-old boy to express his love to a girlfriend. It's not entirely unusual these days that kids say things on technology that they wouldn't say in person. Technologically-delivered messages give them a feeling of anonymity and when people feel anonymous, they say and do things that they wouldn't otherwise wouldn't. However, you describe a host of other issues. This boy is possessive, a bit obsessive and jealous. This concerns me. This is not what puppy love should be comprised of.
I am glad that your daughter is confiding in you and that you are checking her messages. I agree with your husband that if you forbid your daughter from interacting with this boy then you may inadvertently create The Romeo and Juliet Effect. Let me explain. In psychological literature, the Romeo and Juliet Effect refers to the powerful urge to react against restrictions. So, like Romeo and Juliet in Shakespeare's romantic tragedy parents' disapproval may push the teens to want to get even closer. Nonetheless, I believe that you cannot stand by passively and watch your daughter get entangled in a relationship mess.
Here is what I suggest: When your daughter confides in you about this boyfriend, ask her if his behaviors and demands make her feel comfortable. Ask her in a nonjudgmental and calm manner. Your goal is to subtly induce doubt and have her arrive at her own decision. This, of course, would be the best possible outcome. Of course, if you become concerned for her safety then you and your husband will have to step in in a more direct manner.