Help! My 15-Year-Old Daughter Has Started Having Sex.

Advice on manners and morals.
Nov. 27 2013 6:00 AM

Not So Innocent

My 15-year-old daughter is having sex—and it’s breaking my heart.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudie,
Over the weekend, during a heated argument with my 15-year-old daughter, I found out that she and her boyfriend of a year have recently started having sex. I had suspected this, and, to her credit, when I asked she said yes without hesitation. I spent many years talking with her about choices and trying to develop an open relationship. We are seeing her doctor to discuss birth control and talk about reproductive health. On paper, I've done all the right things. But I am devastated! I feel pained that she didn't come to me first, sad that she made this choice so young, and afraid that something horrible will happen. I'm sure this is a normal reaction but how can I move on? How do I make her understand that even though I know she is having sex, and even though I have taken her to see a doctor, that I'm not OK with her having sex? What discussion is appropriate for her dad and me to have with the boyfriend? Clearly lying in bed weeping is not the answer.

—Weepy Mom

Dear Weepy,
Parenthood requires the ability to accept the necessary and bittersweet truth that if you’re doing the right things your child will eventually shed her innocence and need you less. I understand, Mom, that you weren’t ready for your 15-year-old to be shedding her clothes and getting it on with her little pisher of a boyfriend. It’s true that according to the Guttmacher Institute, she’s younger than average for first intercourse—the institute says 16 percent of teens that age are sexually active. But by the time they are 17 years old almost half of teens have had intercourse. So dry your eyes and accept that in this arena your daughter is precocious. She is having sex with someone she cares about, and vice versa. There are so many lousy ways to lose your virginity—think of the drunken party in the basement—that it is a good thing she decided to do it in the context of a relationship. You are right that now she needs a safe and reliable form of birth control. She also needs to be able to talk privately with a gynecologist who can discuss pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other consequences of becoming sexually active, so good for you for setting this up. As for your fears that something horrible will happen, being a parent means living with that fear but not letting it disable you. There’s no reason to think her losing her virginity will start a cascade of disaster.

You ask what you and your husband should say to the boyfriend. I think you need to stick to things like, “Hi, Tyler, how’s school?” and, “Are you playing basketball again this season?” Sure, initiating a discussion with him about the fact that he’s having sex with your daughter might terrify and (temporarily) wilt him. But I don’t see anything good coming of it except awkwardness and a sense of violation on the part of your daughter. I agree with you that it would have been better had she waited to start this phase of life. But she didn’t, and your weekend weeping in bed made clear that you disapprove. You will only alienate her if you can’t come to terms with her decision and treat her with respect. You move on by accepting that you have only a few more years of your little girl living under your roof (you hope). Tell her you appreciate her being honest with you, and that even if you don’t always agree with her decisions, you will always be there to love and support her.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Husband Hung Up on Hair Length

Dear Prudie,
My 32-year-old boyfriend is a great guy—cute, funny, smart, and loving. However, he is unhappy because he hasn't achieved success in his field. It's a hyper-competitive industry, known as “the industry” around here, and he works in a retail job he hates in order to make a living. A guy he went to school with has achieved massive success due to a project he created while in school (my boyfriend helped him perfect it in class, but they were never close). Now whenever that guy's name comes up, or he achieves more success, it sends my boyfriend into a downward spiral of depression. It breaks my heart to see him unhappy like this. I can't believe how much power he lets this successful guy have over him (the classmate hasn’t responded to my boyfriend’s emails for years). I honestly don't know if he will ever make it in this industry. He will almost certainly never make it the way his schoolmate did. How can I help him to help himself accept this and find happiness anyway? I am also trying to break into the same industry, with somewhat more success than my boyfriend is having, but seeing my schoolmates and peers make it just doesn't affect me the same way.

—Heart Aching for Him

Dear Heart,
I’m assuming the industry is entertainment and apparently your boyfriend has been fruitlessly trying to get a toehold for about a decade. So I have some news: He’s not going to make it in show business. I know that you can point to an endless number of people who’ve had breakaway success after years of failure. But they are an infinitesimal percentage of show biz strivers. Far more common is relentless failure, but no one wants to tell that story. Also common are people who have had some degree of success, which then dries up as they age (and in Hollywood, by your 40s you’re considered old). So you have a thwarted guy stewing in bitterness about his lot, hating the job he has, and having no real prospect this will change. You cannot make this better. What you can do is help him face reality. He needs to take a hard look at a career he would find satisfying and for which there are employment opportunities. If that’s not retail, he needs to get out, maybe get some education or training, and retool himself. If he won’t, in another 10 years he will be that hostile guy behind the counter at the mall obsessing over people with half his talent and a thousand times his money.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
My boyfriend and I met and fell in love three years ago, while we were both married to other people (we both have children). My marriage ended quickly. He felt he should try to work it out with his wife, but this past summer they filed for divorce. We brought our relationship out in the open. I know what we did was wrong, and I’m ashamed that it’s part of our history. My family accepts that we’re together. His family blames me for his divorce and thinks that I’m with him only because he’s financially stable. They stay in contact with his ex-wife and refuse to acknowledge my existence. His mother told him that it would be better for his kids if he moved away and let his ex-wife have sole custody. This Thanksgiving my kids are with their dad, and his kids are with their mom. My parents are going away to see relatives but I can’t join them. My boyfriend decided to spend Thanksgiving with his parents and siblings and their families, even though I’m not welcome. I understand that he wants to see his family. If we’re going to have a future, though, at some point he’s going to have to insist that we’re a package deal. Is it reasonable for me to still be punished in this way? Maybe I should just accept that I have to spend a solitary Thanksgiving.

—Scarlet Letter

Dear Scarlet,
I agree that if you two stay together his family is going to have to accept you, but his divorce is still quite recent and the feelings about his affair run so high that his own mother thinks he should abandon his children. So it’s going to take a lot of work to get them to come around; it’s possible they never will. But this first Thanksgiving is not a good test for you to press your case. I can understand you’re feeling abandoned, but you should either volunteer at a shelter or see if a friend can have you join their dinner. Your boyfriend wants to try to repair some very frayed relations with his family. It makes sense for him to spend time with them. Even though he’s not with his kids this Thanksgiving, it will be a huge benefit to them in the long run if he has decent relations with his extended family, who continue to be part of the lives of his children. Let this go this year, and lay low where his family is concerned. Maybe some less fraught holiday—try Arbor Day—he can tell his family it’s time they got to know the woman he loves.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
I am a veteran public school teacher at a very needy school. I work in a small group setting with students who have academic trouble. I love my job and I love my students. However, I find myself having a very hard time enjoying the holiday season knowing the dire living situations that some of my kids are in. I report to authorities what is actionable. I buy snacks and coats when I can, and have even bought alarm clocks for kids whose parents aren’t getting them up to come to school. My school has some good programs to help fill the gaps. But when I am buying groceries or Christmas presents, I think, “How is it that some of my kids have food and presents and so many others at my school will be spending Thanksgiving break just waiting for school to open back up so they can have two meals a day and a safe place to be?” With SNAP benefits being cut, so many more of our school families are struggling. My husband is very supportive and never fusses at me for the things I buy for students, but he does encourage me to let go of the worries while I am at home. Do you have any advice?

—A Teacher

Dear Teacher,
Thank you for this reminder of what the spirit of the holiday season is really all about, and how grateful so many of us should be for simply knowing there will a warm bed tonight and food tomorrow. Your devotion is admirable, and so is your ability to make a difference in such an individual way. You should find solace that day in, day out, year in, year out, you are working to heal the world. But you have to keep in mind that you are like a doctor who treats the sickest patients. Yes, you should bring compassion to your task, but you can’t do your job to the best of your ability if you’re overwhelmed with the pain of the people you’re helping. You have to be able to put a limit on your worries so that you can recharge. You are also carrying too much of this burden alone. You can’t be the main community resource for these kids. There must be organizations that work to provide coats, food, and Christmas presents, to which you can pass along the names of your pupils. Enlist some of the school administrators to help make this happen. The work you do with your students can help them make better lives for themselves. So it’s essential for you, and them, that you don’t get burned out.

—Prudie

More Dear Prudence Columns

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Hands-Off Relationship: My husband had sex with me while I was in a drunken state. Should I divorce him?”
Spousal Surveillance: My husband has been monitoring me through my laptop. How can I get him to stop?”
Willful Blindness: My fiancé was sexually abused as a child. My stepmom defends Jerry Sandusky. How could they possibly meet?”

More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts

There’s Something About Mary: In a live chat, Prudie offers advice on a woman who hasn’t told her boyfriend she used to be a man.”
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