Dear Dr. G.,
I am the proud but frustrated mother of three kids. My oldest is a 17-year-old girl and the other two are 10-year-old twin girls. My 17-year-old, who I was hoping would be the role model for the younger ones, has this fascination with dating "bad" boys. She breaks up with one, I'm happy for a day or two, and then a new tattooed and surly-looking character has stepped right in to fill the shoes of last week's flavor of the week.
Yes, these bad boys may be physically attractive, but that's where their good qualities end. They tend to be inattentive, disrespectful, in trouble and generally quite full of themselves. Why they are full of themselves is a mystery to me.
I have spoken to my daughter about her interest in these boys and she knows that her father and I disapprove. By the way, her father is a nice man and is emotionally available. He is quite kind to all of us and has no history of being emotionally abusive with any of us. I know that psychologists think that we choose people that are like our parents but that is NOT the case here.
I have two questions:
1. What is the fascination with bad boys all about? I know that women go for them.
2. What else can I do with my daughter and this situation short of banning her from seeing these boys?
A Mother Who Doesn't Get It
You are in good company. Women have had this attraction to "bad" boys for as long as I can remember.
Here are the answers to your first question: What is the fascination with bad boys all about?
We are all fascinated by challenges. And, yes, boys who are emotionally unavailable, selfish, arrogant, and disrespectful are, in fact, a challenge. I am not saying that they are a healthy challenge, but they are a challenge nonetheless, and challenges are exciting.
Secondly, emotionally unavailable boys are sometimes available which puts the girls on the most powerful reinforcement schedule of all -- the intermittent reinforcement schedule. If we get positively reinforced on an unexpected and irregular schedule we tend to crave what we get infrequently more and it appears to be the human condition that we may become very excited by that which is elusive.
Third, bad boys may be perceived as very edgy and exciting because of their penchant for partying and risk-taking. Unfortunately, some of this risk-taking may result in trouble with the law, which is not lost on mothers but seems to be an outcome lost on the daughters.
Having explained why "bad" boys are desirable, I will now attempt to answer your second question which is: 2. How do I handle this issue with my daughter?
I do not suggest forbidding her from seeing these boys because that will most likely create a "Romeo and Juliet effect" where they become more attracted to the forbidden fruit. I suggest instead that you have a heart-to-heart with your daughter and explain to her that bad boys do not have a monopoly on edgy and exciting behavior. Young men who are kind and consistent may also be interesting, different, and edgy but may not be wearing their edginess on their proverbial sleeves. Suggest that she make some good male friends. She should be encouraged to mix with boys who are less likely to be "thug-like." It would be a shame if she has to wait until age 40 before learning this the hard way.
Sadly, our society perpetuates the myth of the exciting bad boy. There is nothing exciting about having a teen daughter in tears after being handily dismissed by one of these boys after he has chewed her up and spit her out.
Finally, I would like to say that as a group we need to talk to our sons about the importance of integrity because we are currently raising young men who are very confused about the appeal of the bad boy.