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Ask a Professional: Change in teen's daughters behaviour

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Ask a Professional: Change in teen's daughters behaviour

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I recently returned from a six month deployment and I hardly recognize my 16 year old daughter. She dresses very provocatively, an often walks around the house topless. With her mothers permission, without my knowledge, she got a tongue stud and a lower back tattoo. Her mother put her on birth control as she is now sexually active with multiple partners. I found this out by accident. Last Saturday I woke up early to the sound of a car pulling up our gravel driveway and stopping fast. I got out of bed in time to see my daughter dressed in cut off shorts a bikini top and nothing else, not even thongs, her phone in her back pocket, run out the front door. She got in a car with one other girl and several boys and took off. I asked her if she was using condoms and she said no because her boyfriends do not like the way they feel and none of the other girls use them either. Its like the girl I knew is completely gone. My wife is completely unconcerned and thinks I am worrying for nothing, that this is all part of growing up. I just can't make myself believe it. What should I do? What can I do to talk some sense into my daughter before she gets hurt bad?

Hi @exceiver76 ,

It must have been a shock to return home and find such a change in your daughter. At 16 years old, six months is a long time and friend groups, clothing, and maturity can all change a lot during this time as it appears has happened with your daughter.

It’s understandable that you’re feeling alarmed and worried by this change and her behaviour, and want to protect her. While teens often do engage in risk-taking behaviour, it is concerning that she is regularly having unprotected sex.

It can be really challenging for parents to address concerns about things like sexual activity, tattoos etc, because teens can be quite sensitive to feeling judged or that their parent is not accepting of their choices. They are most likely to listen and be open to hearing the parents’ concerns when they feel listened to, understood and accepted by their parents.

You can help her feel understood and accepted by spending time with her, talking to her about things other than your concerns like topics of mutual interest (it can help to think about what you used to talk about before your deployment) or what is going on in her life more generally. There are some more tips here:

You mention having a sense that the daughter you knew is gone. A lot of parents struggle with a sense of loss as their children approach adulthood, that in a sense they have lost the connection with them. So it can be really important to look for and recognise the ways in which your daughter is still the same person, as well as the ways she has grown. It can help to think about things that are specific to your daughter, that make her stand out. For instance, perhaps it is her sense of humour, or she is someone who is optimistic, or caring towards others when they are going through a tough time. If you keep an eye out, there will be key character traits which are still there. Recognising these strengths, and acknowledging them in your conversations can help build her sense of comfort and trust, so that she is more likely to be open to hearing your concerns about her wellbeing.

When talking about these concerns, it’s important to express these in a non-judgemental way, and focus on one or two key points that are most important.

I would also suggest that it may be helpful to spend some more time exploring these issues with your wife. It can be hard to parent when you and your partner aren’t on the same page, and it sounds like you are coming from different perspectives. If the two of you can listen to each other’s perspectives on this, and aim to come to a shared understanding of what aspects of these changes the two of you can consider part of your daughter’s growing maturity, and what aspects do need to be addressed, then this can help you develop a united approach regarding your daughter.

Best wishes,


Linda is a psychologist experienced in working with people across the lifespan, including teenagers and their families ,in a variety of settings, and is ReachOut's Clinical Lead.


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