Should You Confront Your Teen?

I recently noticed that my 16-year-old daughter was spending much more money than her allowance provides. I became curious about where the extra money was coming from and I checked her bank account and discovered that she had recently deposited 300 dollars. The only place that she could get this amount of cash is from her friend's house. When I asked the friend's mother, she refused to believe that my daughter would steal from her. I am very worried and upset. I don't want to tell her I was looking at her bank book. What is the next step?

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Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

You are right to be worried and upset. Your daughter is obtaining money from unknown sources. Though you believe it to be her friend's parents money, she could be vulnerable to other forms of illegal and even more dangerous activity such as pornography or drug sales. Your daughter clearly needs your help. Confronting her with the question of where she is obtaining this money is essential.

The fact that you secretively looked into her check book, rather than asking her to show it to you, reveals an intimidation on your part to directly confront your teenager. Why? It is unfortunate that you talked to her friend's parents before approaching her, but it is no reason to continue to deal with her in an indirect manner.

Going behind your daughter's back is a mistake you can acknowledge, apologize for, and correct in the future. Still, this should not stop you from requiring information about where this money is coming from. Remember that your daughter is also hiding things from you. Her deception contributes to your need to get information in any way you can. In the future, you must give her the opportunity to tell you the truth before sleuthing.

Be willing to approach you daughter directly with the facts. The issue now is not HOW you got the information but that she may be in trouble and needs your help getting back on track.

If you do discover that she has been stealing, you will want to provide consequences for her actions. Some parents, who must deal with their children stealing, do so in a manner in which the process itself is the consequence. For example, one mother insisted that her fifteen-year-old son talk with and write a letter of apology to a department store for accompanying his older friend who was caught stealing. Although her son had not been arrested, she recognized that a lack of action on her part would ignore his participation. By having to face the authorities in the event and being supported to take responsibility for his knowledge and passive involvement, her son experience became an opportunity for growth and clarification of his own values.

All of us are learning, and certainly your daughter is no exception. Handle this situation directly and take responsibility for helping her learn integrity. You are her role model. Finding strength to face her in this situation will be something she will admire and thank you for in the future. But do not delay. Your daughter needs your guidance now!

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