There is a teenage disco in our local area and my 13-year-old daughter is very keen to go. Though it seems to be well organised and just targeted at first years, I feel a bit reluctant to let her go.
I might be a bit old-fashioned and just think 13 is too young. I also worry about what goes on at these discos with the way the girls dress in an over-sexualised way and all that might go on with the boys.
My daughter is a sensible girl who hasn’t given me much trouble. She would accept it if I said “no” but she says she would feel really left out. She says nearly her whole class are going as well as her close friends and this seems to be the case when I check. I’m not sure what to do. As I am parenting alone and she is my eldest, I haven’t had to deal with these issues before.
Pushing for independence is the mark of the teenage years and the best response as a parent is neither saying an immediate “Yes” nor an immediate “No” to each of your teenager’s requests.
Instead, the key is to negotiate independence gradually with your teenager and to use each request for more responsibility as an opportunity to reflect about and think through the issues with them and to prepare them to take a next step in living their own lives.
As a result, it is important to take your daughter’s request to go to the disco seriously and to consider all the issues with her before deciding.
Think through issues and check in with other parents
Dealing with your eldest entering the teenage years is unknown territory as a parent, and it is particularly hard if you are parenting alone or without support. You might find it useful to talk through the issues with a close friend or with other parents you trust in a similar situation.
For example, it would be reasonable to make contact with one or more of your daughter’s friends’ parents to discuss the pros and cons of the disco and to share concerns about the issues.
This way you can put things in perspective and reduce your own anxiety. Certainly, making contact with other parents could help ensure your daughter’s safety as it allows you to check who your daughter might be going with and to share the supervision of the teenagers when travelling to and from the disco.
Listen to your daughters perspective
Don’t pre-judge your daughter’s motives going to the disco or start by giving her lots of warnings about the dangers. Take time to listen and to understand what it means for her to go to the disco.
For some girls, socialising with boys is a big feature of going to a first disco but others may simply be interested in the ritual of dressing up, showing off their new clothes, trying out their dance moves and having fun with their friends.
The more you understand what it means to her, the more you will be able to decide if she is ready to go, what preparation she might need and also to present alternative options if you need to.
That “all her friends” are going is a valid reason that she may want to go, as fitting in and being part of the group is important for teenagers, though you should also check that she is not only going to please friends, and help her make other plans if that is what she wants.
Be prepared to set rules and conditions
Whatever you decide, it is important that you are prepared to set rules that focus on your daughter’s safety, for example, making sure that she is going with good friends and that she is supervised when travelling to and from the venue.
If you have not done so already, start a conversation about sex and relationships with her, emphasising not only information but also the values you want her to have.
As a young teenager it is reasonable for you to set some rules about how she dresses and what make-up she wears when she goes to the disco and to make these conditions of her going.
Discuss safety with your daughter
A good approach with teenagers is to not simply lecture them about the dangers they might be exposed to but instead explore what they think of the issues and how they might deal with difficult situations.
For example, as well as expressing your own views, ask her what she thinks of how the girls dress and how the boys respond or what she thinks the problems are for boys and girls dating at a young age.
You could also explore what she might do in difficult situations such as how she might respond if a boy gave her unwanted attention or how she would say “No” if someone put pressure on her to drink alcohol and so on.
Over time, you want to help her make her own decisions, to set her own limits and not to feel pressured in any way.
Try to trust your daughter
Going out to a first disco or to a first social event can be an important rite of passage for a young teenager and something that marks them growing up. If you feel that your daughter is a sensible girl then it can be helpful to trust her and to give her some freedom on this occasion, especially as you feel the disco is well supervised and a safe place for her to socialise.
Make sure to check in with her after the disco as to how it went as keeping connected with her is very important as she grows up.
Above all, make sure to keep the channels of communication open between you so she knows that she can always come and talk to you if she is worried about anything.
Prof. John Sharry, Irish Times Newspaper, January 2013. John writes in the Irish Times Health Plus every Tuesday.
Autumn 2018: ‘Parenting Pre-Teens & Teenagers’ half-day course with John Sharry in Dublin Sun 21st October and Cork, Sun 4th November. Bookings for this and other talks and courses with John at www.solutiontalk.ie