Q.Our 16-year-old daughter is wonderful, sweet and loving most of the time and defiant, argumentative and stubborn the rest of the time. This dear child flies off the handle quickly, loudly and rudely with us and sometimes with her friends -- not every day but often -- even though I tell her that her behavior is unacceptable.
There are other issues.
Although she is an honor student, she could do much better if she tried a little harder and read more books. She won't read for pleasure, however, even though I offer incentives, take her to the library, recommend good books and have given her a speed-reading course as well.
The Internet is a problem, too, and instant messaging is a major distraction. I've recently signed onto America Online's parental controls and banned the Internet entirely from Monday through Thursday.
Dating is another issue. I listen to the plans that my daughter and her boyfriend make and then set the curfew to suit the occasion. It may be 10 or 11 p.m. but never later. I also wonder if we should let her friends ride in the car when she starts driving. If so, how many friends?
A.A teenager is as eager for independence as a 2-year-old, and both may become defiant, argumentative, stubborn and explosive if their parents don't adjust to this innate need.
This doesn't mean that you should let your daughter do what she wants anytime she wants, but you must listen to her ideas and consider her point of view better than you ever have before. In this way you will give her what she wants most: your respect for her mind and her feelings. And when you can't let her do something she dearly wants to do, tell her that you're saying no because you love her too much and that you'd worry, and not that she's too immature. Even if she is, you don't have to mention it.
Nor do you have to feel guilty if your daughter has stricter limits than her friends. You have the right to rear your child in your own way but be flexible. No rule is written in stone.
You will prevent many scenes if you assess your daughter's growing sense of responsibility regularly so you can loosen your apron strings when she's ready for more freedom, instead of waiting until she has a big grievance. The right curfew for a 15-year-old may enrage a 16-year-old, because she knows that she is a little older and wiser than she was a year ago. The more parents ignore the new signs of maturity in their teenager, the more she will explode.
You'll also find it easier if you let her spend her leisure time as she wants, without pushing the reading so hard. She will read books when she's ready.
You might ease up on your computer restrictions, too. IM is an annoying, mindless phase that most teenage girls go through, but like the telephone, it teaches them how to network and that's an essential skill for girls. While most males play king of the mountain all their lives, females must connect with other females -- a need that probably dates back to Neanderthal days. Who would want to have a baby all alone in a cave?
Women have always found ways to gather, whether drawing water at the village well or making patchwork quilts. Your daughter is simply carrying on the tradition with IM and the phone. There's no harm in that, as long as you limit her time on both and don't let her use either one when she should be doing her homework.
She also should have car limits. Studies show that even one passenger increases the risk of an accident for young drivers, especially 16- and 17-year-olds, and two or three passengers make the risk four times as high. By contrast, those who are 20 and older drive more safely if someone else is in the car. Read all about it on www.highwaysafety.org
As for dating, your daughter should be able to go out with her boyfriend on Friday and Saturday nights, particularly if they go with another couple or in a group, and she should also be encouraged to ask friends over after school and on weekends as long as you're at home.
These visits will be good for you, too. If you know your daughter's friends well, you will feel safer when she's with them -- or you will see that she gets new friends.
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