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A little background- my daughter has never had a boyfriend/girlfriend or relationship and is in 8th grade. She has always been young for her age and had a tough time identifying with other girls and kids at her school (we had issues of bullying- mostly to her being shy) in which we switched her schools in 3rd grade. She was always the sweet, shy one, and so paranoid of her acne, which she has had from a young age. Well, she has blossomed now into a gorgeous, tall bombshell (I hate to say it) but since she joined Performing Arts, and gotten lead roles, it has really boosted her self esteem.

Anyhow, my daughter has finally found her "soul mate" friends (she says) that really understand her and has been texting them (2 in particular) at all hours. One is 14 and the other is 17, both girls. I am very close with my daughter and started seeing something "more" going with her feelings wise for the 17 year old who played her opposite as the lead in the past play, where they also shared a kissing scene, multiple times. I asked her one night outright if she liked the 17 year old and she teared up and asked how I knew. I told her I was her mama and that I just knew and that I would love her unconditionally. She said she still liked both guys and girls, but she definitely liked the 17 year old and she couldn't help her feelings. I hugged her and that is how she came out to me.

Fast forward two weeks- we've told dad which was hard but he is supportive (ish) it's still new. We had to tell her that there is absolutely no way she can have sleepovers with the 13 year old and 17 old (which they were planning). We've never fought with her in our life (she has always been so easy until now!)

She told me that her and the 17yo were "seeing each other" and that the 17yo has an "open" relationship with a boy as well, which means they can see other people. Well, I met with the 17yo, (who insisted they were friends) explained they were not allowed to see each other anymore, and thank goodness the 17yo obliged. I don't think she realized the level of the relationship my daughter was thinking. We also told her we were pulling her out of the class she is teaching for Performing Arts that our daughter just started.

My husband and I explained the situation to my daughter and she is devastated and angry. Well, that's an understatement. She is embarrassed for having more feelings for someone than they had for her (and someone much older), having her other friends find out about this crush, and furious at us-- especially since she confided in us her feelings. We always told her she could tell us anything, and now she says she trusted us and we took away her best friend in life.

We tried to explain that it was an age thing, that if the 17yo was a boy, we would have done the SAME thing. We explained we did it to protect her, we explained how 13yo and 17yo have different emotions and all the rest, but of course she didn't want to hear it. Anyhow, my heart as a mom hurts so much right now. She just lays in her room in the dark not talking to anyone. We have always been so close. I know it is not my job to be her friend right now, but to be her mom, but any advice would be appreciated.

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Please take discussion to Parenting Chat and don't put answers in comments. –  Karl Bielefeldt Apr 21 at 14:31

11 Answers 11

The way these events unfolded is an unfortunate one, and I feel rather sorry for your current predicament as a family.

By forbidding your daughter from seeing her 17-year-old friend, it seems to me that you possibly accomplished several things:

  • You showed your daughter that you fundamentally don't trust her judgment about herself and her own feelings

  • You and/or your husband may have made her feel that despite your joint assurances regarding her possible homosexual orientation, you're unable to accept her as she is

  • You destroyed a friendship with this girl that your daughter highly valued

  • That same action also meant destroying your daughter's involvement in a Performing Arts class that she greatly enjoyed, and which had contributed substantially to her improved self-confidence.

  • You crystallized an asymmetrical definition of your daughter's relationship with her friend that might (or might not) have evolved into one on more equal terms. You also defined it as a fundamentally sexual relationship when its most important feature may have been the sense of friendship and guidance your daughter was getting from a somewhat more worldly-wise teenager who, from your description, was not actually intent on maliciously exploiting your daughter's inexperience. (I think your daughter would probably have been capable of dealing with the issue of her 17-year-old friend’s boyfriend on her own; or if not, I think it would have been better for you to let her come to you for advice rather than intervening the way you did)

  • Because you have, until now, evidently had an open and affectionate relationship with your daughter, this sudden drastic interference on your part may have considerably shaken your daughter's confidence in your and your husband's perception of what is good for her, at least for the time being.

  • You closed off an avenue for your daughter's exploration of her identity that was based on her own sense of her evolving personality rather than on parentally-imposed norms. (I think that by the age of 13, most children are ready to start gradually drawing away from their parents and defining who they want to be for themselves, with the benefit of supportive guidance from the parents rather than having the law laid down for them; but I know that this can be a tricky balance to strike.)

Well, it is of course quite possible that I've missed the mark in some of my analysis. (There are a couple of points I would have liked a little clarification on: for instance, the wording of your description about how your husband was informed about your daughter's lesbian crush made me wonder if you are actually divorced and living in separate households, which would presumably make it more difficult to coordinate the way you handle some of the issues that are liable to arise in connection with your daughter’s upbringing.)

Regardless, it does seem clear that there was a considerable failure (or several failures) of communication along the way. It seems important for healthy communication channels between all the members of your family to be reestablished as soon as is reasonably possible in order to restore a more normal atmosphere, and of course to improve the frayed relations between your daughter and yourselves. This may possibly involve giving her a sincere apology for breaching her trust or overreaching in your response to her relationship with her friend. (Showing that you can be fallible in your parental judgment when your daughter is 13 [and is probably savvier than one might suspect] would be the honest thing to do, and I'm sure she would appreciate the gesture of your openness if you can convince her that your action is genuine.)

I also invite you to consider your own motivations for acting the way you did more deeply. Were they mostly about you and your prejudices, or were they truly mostly focused on your daughter's well-being? You do sound like a deeply caring parent, but it may be the case that you and your husband would benefit from at least a degree of professional help to come to terms with the possibility that your daughter will turn out to be gay, as well as getting some guidance regarding the best way to deal with some of the issues connected with that possibility.

One thing you haven't discussed very much in your account is your daughter's relationship with her other friend (the one who is aged 13 or 14). I'm not sure what your attitude is towards that friendship, but unless some obvious red flags are apparent there, I'd be inclined to avoid doing anything that might give your daughter (who is currently very sensitive about the interference of her parents in her relationships with her peers) any additional cause for resentment. Apart from anything else, for as long as she is upset about your interference in her relationships with her friends, her ability to concentrate on her schoolwork is likely to be at least somewhat impaired.

One of the other people who responded to your question raised the issue of the age of consent. I’m assuming you are based in the USA, in which case you might like to check out Wikipedia’s page concerning the age of consent in whichever of the 50 states you reside in:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ages_of_consent_in_North_America

I hope my comments have been at least somewhat useful. Good luck!

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Let's keep comments for clarifying or requesting clarification to the content, and not for criticisms or discussion. Extended discussion should occur in Parenting Chat. If you disagree with an answer, it is okay to post a short comment explaining why you are (presumably) downvoting it, but let's keep it civil, and directly to the point. –  Beofett Apr 21 at 19:18

Oh, the pain of first heartbreak! Bless you for being there for your daughter through all of this. The maturity level between 13 and 17 is so vast and I'm very glad the other girl agreed to back off rather than messing with your daughter's emotions; she sounds like she'll be a good friend down the road, once the dust has a chance to settle.

If you don't listen to Dan Savage's podcast, I'd recommend it, for your own sanity if nothing else. He has dealt with several parents' questions recently along the same lines (how do I support my kid while she/he goes through this growing-up-and-exploring-love mess), and his advice falls along the lines of "love your child, support your child, stick up for your child, and let them know you have their back." You're doing all these things. (So give yourself a bit of a hug.)

It might be that she needs to talk to someone about this; does she have an aunt/older cousin/older sibling/someone who's close and trustworthy but not a parent that she can confide in? Someone who can help her find her way through this morass? We've all been there but it's SOOOO hard for a teen to see that, especially when it's a parent saying it.

I'd also recommend trying to spend some 'normal' time with her, if you can. Go do one-on-one normal things and let her process this at her own speed. Let her know you're there to talk if she needs you, but that you're not going to insist she open her own thought processes to you if she's not ready to do so.

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Let's keep comments for clarifying or requesting clarification to the content, and not for criticisms or discussion. Extended discussion should occur in Parenting Chat. If you disagree with an answer, it is okay to post a short comment explaining why you are (presumably) downvoting it, but let's keep it civil, and directly to the point. –  Beofett Apr 21 at 19:21

I am not really understanding why you had to tear them apart. As far as I can read from your text they never did anything "bad" to each other, so one could expect the 17 year old to not suddenly do something to your daughter just because she is older.

I totally understand that you need to assist your daughter here, the difference between 13 and 17 is too extreme to just let her experience that on her own. But I wonder why you did not just clear the thing up with the older girl and tell her to keep the relationship on a friendship level and to understand that she can't do certain things with such a young girl, she probably would have understood. Eventually that love would have died out naturally giving your daughter the chance to learn something about relationships from someone a bit older. That would have given your daughter some insight, while now she is just angry and probably will take a very long time to understand what you did.

Instead of cutting the line between them (if you even can do that), you could alternatively now, after some time, tell your daughter that you did that to get her to cool down a bit and allow her to see her friend again, but on a friendship level and nothing more. That might fix some of the trust she obviously lost.

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Let's keep comments for clarifying or requesting clarification to the content, and not for criticisms or discussion. Extended discussion should occur in Parenting Chat. If you disagree with an answer, it is okay to post a short comment explaining why you are (presumably) downvoting it, but let's keep it civil, and directly to the point. –  Beofett Apr 21 at 19:21

Wow, you really screwed up, sorry to say, it pains me to read what you did, i had to stop a few times, hopefully I didn't miss anything important, I believe I read it all. Big issues:

  1. Pulling her out of performing arts. bad decision.
  2. Telling her she's not allowed to see her "friend"/partner/whatever. worse decision.

The first will mess up her entire life worse, as it will make her think less of academics and school in general, since she now has no faith that anything she works hard on won't be ripped away from her in the future. -- This is from first hand experience

The second will just make her rebel against you more, and only help to weaken your relationship with her. -- Common sense to everyone except the parents

While I understand not allowing sleepovers because of potential liability, all girls experiment during sleepovers, regardless of their "preferences".

However, not allowing her sleepovers because you don't want her to experience any sexual contact, well see how well that train goes...

You really need to let her figure things out on her own, and step in if there becomes a problem. Really it seems like you 'pretended' to accept her, but then in fear, destroyed her life, with no good reason.

Good luck, I know I am not offering much advice, but hopefully you can understand the effect your actions will have a bit better.

It's much harder to see things clearly when you're the actual parent of the child.

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Let's keep comments for clarifying or requesting clarification to the content, and not for criticisms or discussion. Extended discussion should occur in Parenting Chat. If you disagree with an answer, it is okay to post a short comment explaining why you are (presumably) downvoting it, but let's keep it civil, and directly to the point. –  Beofett Apr 21 at 19:22

Before reconnecting with your daughter, I think it's important for you and your husband to reflect upon your own views of sexuality.

I wonder if your reaction to your daughter would REALLY have been the same if she'd confessed to dating a 17yo boy in an open relationship?

I grew up in a conservative but progressive family and church, so I had a traditional view of sex. My wife and I played by the rules and were virgins when we got married.

Recently, she came out to me as Bi. This explains some of the challenges we've had connecting physically throughout our marriage.

Your daughter is fortunate to be living in a time that she is simply embarrassed, not actively harassed, for her orientation.

My wife did not grow up with this same opportunity to explore her feelings openly and honestly. We are committed to working through this challenge together, but it's not ideal. We would be in a much better place if she'd been able to admit her orientation to herself when she was a teen.

I would humbly suggest that you reconsider your reaction. The worst thing you can do right now is leave your daughter feeling ashamed. That will lead to deeper difficulties in any serious relationships she pursues in the future, and it could permanently damage your relationship with her, too.

Given what I know now, I would suggest the following steps:

1) Ask your husband how he would feel if you came out to him as Bi today. His reaction to this possibility may give you the chance to discuss how to be more compassionate to your daughter. Tell him some random dude on the internet is going through this right now!

2) Apologize to your daughter. Admit that you should have discussed things together, as a family, with her 17yo girlfriend; not go around her and confront the girlfriend directly.

3) Clarify your expectations surrounding dating and intimacy in gender-neutral terms. How old should your daughter be before she dates? Before she has sex with a partner? This may be a time for you and your husband to come clean and discuss the decisions you both made when you were your daughter's age.

4) Focus on healthy, mutually-respectful relationship building. Intimacy is a natural result of years of friendship and physical attraction. It's what you and your husband experienced as you drew closer together and decided to commit to each other for life. I'm sure you want the same thing for your daughter.

Good luck as you navigate these waters! Parenting is tough, but creating healthy intimacy is even tougher.

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+1 for your second step "Apologize to your daughter"! –  mawimawi Apr 20 at 8:32

If the 17yo didn't want more than friendship, then why are you banning them from being friends? This young woman could help your daughter, as long as you establish with them there are "rules of engagement" (ie, no dating someone 4 years older than you) I'm not sure what you hope to accomplish in essentially breaking trust with your daughter by undermining her judgement and taking away one of her best friends, ESPECIALLY after a back story involving your daughter having trouble making friends. Had my mother banned me from seeing someone when I was that age, it would have just pushed me to seek them out even more out of spite of what that represented: tacit disapproval of my judgement and implications that I am still just a child who needs to be told what to do, who I can talk to, etc. I'm also not sure I buy that you only did this because the person was older - I think had the fact your daughter had a crush on this person not come into play, as well as the fact that there was any possibility of reciprocation, you would never have banned them from being friends. You need to take a long, hard look at your true motivations and then sit down with your daughter again, possibly with a 3rd party mediator, to work out these trust issues. 13 is a really fragile age, and not a good time to suddenly lose 1/2 of your non-parental support system.

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If the 17-year-old is in fact OK with ending - or at least cooling - the relationship, she might be the person your daughter needs to talk to. Lift the ban, let them talk it out (and tell your daughter that this is what you're doing: you're letting her handle it). With any luck, at the end of the day, it will be over without your being the bad guy.

Aside from the same-sex issue, this sounds like your basic pre-teen crush - it's not the end of the world. On the bright side, it's less hazardous than her messing around with a 17-year-old boy. (As a former 17-year-old boy, I know whereof I speak...)

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-1 (if I had the rep): As the big brother of 4 sister, I assure you that 17yo girls aren t that far from 17yo boys. –  user7327 Apr 17 at 9:28
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17-year-old girls can't get you pregnant. –  Bradd Szonye Apr 18 at 9:22
    
@Bradd They still can bring a friend than can. (However, in that case they ll often being the one ending up pregnant). –  user7327 Apr 18 at 13:16

I think Robs answer hit the nail on the head. There are some other issues that I'm surprised no one said anything about:

This sounds completely innocent. To your knowledge, nothing has happened (besides kissing scenes for a play?) She texts her friends, so what. You never had crushes on people when you were that age? Never had a thing for your teacher?

Your daughter confided in you.. so what do you do? You over react and talked to the 17 y/o girl who probably had no clue your daughter had a crush on her. You going to go have talks to anyone your daughter has a thing for now? When she enrolls in another drama class, god forbid there is a kissing scene, you going to lay down the law as well?

You need to back off. Your daughter sounds like she just started making friends and you go and embarrass her. It would be one thing if the 17 year old girl was manipulative and trying to take advantage of her, but from what you said, that was not what was going on at all. In fact, I doubt the 17 year old would have any reason to be hanging out with a 13 year old. I don't even really understand how they're in the same class together.

You must have had some different experiences, but t's pretty common for girls to "experiment" with their friends. Back off and don't screw up your daughters teenage years.

Finally, it's not unusual to develop feelings for someone after kissing them. She's 13, she has no clue whether she likes boys or girls. And if she does turn out to be a lesbian, be grateful you don't have to worry about her getting pregnant.

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17 is way too old for a 13 year old to be dating, and 13 is far to young for a 17 year old - the rule of thumb is:

min_age = (your_age / 2) + 7 where your_age > min_age

so for a 17yo that's 8.5 + 7 = 15.5.

Reversing the formula for a 13yo gives a smaller result (<13), so max_age for 13 is 13. Far too young to be dating older kids.

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Let's keep comments for clarifying or requesting clarification to the content, and not for criticisms or discussion. Extended discussion should occur in Parenting Chat. If you disagree with an answer, it is okay to post a short comment explaining why you are (presumably) downvoting it, but let's keep it civil, and directly to the point. –  Beofett Apr 21 at 19:23

Everyone has different standards about what kind of relationships are appropriate and inappropriate. In general this hits enough hot buttons (especially the age disparity and the "open relationship") that you are not in some strange minority by thinking it's inappropriate.

Forbidding sleepovers with anyone who there may be a romantic relationship with is entirely prudent and I would question the parenting of anyone who wouldn't do that. If my daughter wanted to have boys over for "sleepovers" the answer would be an age/intent appropriately explained version of "Absolutely not."

Talking to the 17 year old was probably OK - it's unclear from the question whether you told her she couldn't see the 17 year old clearly first, and then followed up with the 17 year old just to make sure the (much more mature, and potentially at legal risk) older party understood what was up. That's not wrong to do.

Pulling her out of the class is a little more drastic, but as the person closest to the action you have to evaluate whether you believe the class, and the people involved, will likely lead to inappropriate behavior or not. There's a continuum of "it's a class supervised by adult teachers in a public place, and the 17 year old is straight and had no idea this was all going on" to "it's a child supervised class held informally and the 17 year old was sexting the 13 year old merrily before you cracked down." Obviously pulling her is appropriate on one extreme and less so on the other extreme; judgement is required. You can't pull a kid from every activity where they find someone sexually attractive - if you had a 13 year old boy that would be "every single activity ever."

A 13 year old girl is going to "hate you" for something, some of the time, regardless of what you do. It's the nature of that age's riotous emotions and the enforcement you have to provide as part of parenting. It's one of the burdens you have to bear as a parent to raise your child right and safely in the world. It hurts, but as long as you continue to show them your love and support but consistently enforce rules and boundaries, it'll pay off in the end. Continue to love and support her in the usual ways and she'll get over it. Every new experience seems like it's the MOST DRAMATIC THING EVER to a child (and it is, from their limited experience!). Tell her you're sorry she's upset, and that you are trying to do what's best for her, and that you want to listen to her thoughts and feelings about it - and then go make dinner.

The one thing that you may have done poorly, and this is reading between the lines, is in having these discussions and setting expectations with your daughter in the first place. Is it a surprise to her that you disapprove of a much older *-friend, or an "open relationship," or a homosexual relationship, or a sexual relationship as a minor at all, or whatever your set of morals are? (Sounds like you're OK with some of those but not others, just including all the buttons pressed in the situation - it's a poor use of this SE for people to debate whose morals are right, and has nothing to do with parenting per se.) If this is a surprise to her, why?

As a parent you have a responsibility to proactively explain the boundaries and explain why you hold to them. It's a lot harder for a child to take, and it seems a lot more arbitrary, when enforcement suddenly appears "out of the blue." The culture that kids get in school and from the Internet nowadays is extremely permissive (as some of these answers show) and tend towards "everything is permitted." It's your responsibility to instill resistance to the harmful parts of that so that she knows, for example, that a much older person is taking advantage of them whether they intend to or not, or that because you have sudden strong feelings for another person at 13 doesn't really make you "gay" or "bi" (I had strong feelings for my bicycle seat, at 13), or whatever other wisdom you hold to.

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I'm going to tell you flat-out: Your daughter's been turned out.

I don't know your parenting style, some parents try to be their kids friend instead of their parent. That's not me, and I know you mentioned that you're aware that's not your job right now anyway.

How you approach this will either drive your daughter closer to you, or to her lover. The actions you take largely depend on how you feel about teen dating and homosexuality in general.

I wouldn't trust what the 17yo says in regards to seeing your daughter anymore. It may be true, but when I was 17 I would have told you that to get you out of my face, and still texted (tweeting wasn't around then so..) and snuck around to do whatever. If you are really concerned with them seeing each other you should take extra steps to ensure they are not communicating.

Your daughter will probably be angry with you for a little while for putting her feelings in public, she might get over it, she might not. Chilling in a dark room as a teen might not necessarily be a terrible thing, however I would monitor that and fix it if it becomes excessive. Since Excessive is a relative term, if you feel she is spending too much alone time in her room than it's up to you and espcially her father.

I would also explain to her that her body isn't loyal to her emotions/feelings. That means that, since her (either first or one of the) first sexual encounter was with a girl, she's going to feel like she's attracted to girls. This is because If someone touches you a certain way, your body is going to respond a certain way, and it doesn't matter if that came from the opposite sex or not. She has likely liked boys naturally since a young age, but now this encounter with a female has made her question that and believe that's the way she was 'born'. This is analogous to the feeling experienced when being straight baited*.

Everyone has their own beliefs in the area of homosexuality, personally as a Christian I disagree with that way of life. I say that clearly so you will know where my conviction and guidance comes from. That being said, It's very much possible to love someone and not approve of that lifestyle.

Lastly, In a nutshell, kids are going to things you tell them not to. In some cases they are going to do it behind your back, and there's little you can do about it. However, that does not mean you should just lay down and put up with it.

*There are situations such as straight men and women being tricked into having a homosexual experience. This could happen via blindfolding, handcuffing, etc., but it happens, and it happens among young people as well.

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Please take discussion to Parenting Chat. –  Karl Bielefeldt Apr 16 at 20:22

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