You’ve seen it in the movies or on TV: the sweet, innocent daughter is busy studying for classes, spending time with her family, and volunteering at the local animal shelter. The greasy-haired, tattoo-covered guy has dropped out of high school or college and spends his day driving around in his sleek car. Then, girl meets boy and everything changes.
Most of us haven’t experienced this sort of extreme, but it’s still very common for parents to find their older teens and adult children pursuing friendships and relationships with people they don’t approve of. If you do find yourself in this situation, it’s important to recognize the fine line between giving your child direction and imposing demands.
So here are 4 ways to direct your teen or adult child when you don’t approve of a friend or dating relationship they are pursuing.
1. Begin with love.
The first step to take in a fragile situation is to read 4 C’s for Communicating with Your Teen. It also applies to unmarried adult children. Then, sit down with your child and explain that you’d like to talk through the issue together. Thank them for being willing to talk for a few minutes.
Start the conversation with love by sharing how you love them unconditionally, as I discuss in my blog 8 Things Every Father Must Teach His Daughter. Love says, “I want what’s best for you! That’s why I’m talking to you about this, why I’m doing this, and why I’m making this decision.” Once they know you have their best interests at heart, you will be free to explain your thoughts.
2. Address the Issue.
When you address tough issues with your teen or adult child, it’s important to be clear, but not cruel; attack the problem, not the person. Avoid statements like, “John is always selfish and controlling with you,” even if you know it’s true. Your child will shut down if you start by attacking their friend. Instead, specifically address the potential red flags you’ve seen as a result of the relationship.
When you address tough issues with your teen or adult child, it’s important to be clear, but not cruel; attack the problem, not the person.
For example, you might say, “I noticed last week that you skipped your classes so you could spend more time with John. Would you share with me why you chose to do that?” Of course, then ask follow up questions as necessary so your child can come to their own conclusion about the wisdom, or lack of it, in their decision. It’s important for your child to come to those conclusions themselves. How to Tackle Tough Topics with Your Teen will give you a practical, step-by-step approach for addressing issues with your children.
3. Explore Options.
Once your child has listened and recognized your point of view, it’s time to explore options. Talk through different solutions together—ask your child questions like, “So, given these concerns, what do you think we should do?” If your child says, “Nothing,” gently let them know that “nothing” is not an option. Then, perhaps you can make a suggestion that you both can live with.
If it’s a serious relationship that might be heading toward marriage, you may want to give your child these Before You Say “I Do” Premarital Questions. After reading them, or discussing them with their boyfriend or girlfriend, they may recognize on their own that this is not the right relationship.
4. Trust Your Child.
Finally, it’s important to understand that your older teen soon will be an adult and your adult child is just that: an adult. And as an adult, he or she will want to make the final decision. Hopefully, by this time, your child will have absorbed the wisdom you’ve shared over the years, enabling you to trust them to make wise decisions.
And, hopefully, they will honor you and trust you enough to follow your lead. But if they don’t follow your advice, as painful as it may be, they may have to experience failure for them to learn for the future. Ultimately, as you move from being an in-control parent to an Out of Control Parent, you’ll recognize that you simply have to trust and rest in God.
Is there a friendship or relationship in your older teen or adult child’s life that needs to be addressed? Share in a comment below some ways you can apply these steps to your situation.