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The Toughest Teen Problem You’ll Ever Have

I’ve watched parents raise children for 30 years (and raised four of my own), so I know how hard it is.

Here, I share a question that came to me as a pediatrician — as well as my answer to this parent. It might be helpful to other parents as they navigate these issues.

Dear Dr. Meeker,
It’s been almost a year since I first reached out to you. I wanted to give you a brief update on my oldest daughter, who just turned 16.

In your recent book, you spoke of a father and mother [1] who brought their daughter to see you. They were thoughtful and loving parents, and their daughter was doing well except for the last couple of months. She had developed an edge and also an aggressive behavior toward her father. After your meeting with her, it was determined that she came across pornography and associated it with her father and mother.

In the last six months, our relationship has also become more strained. I’m not sure why. I don’t know if this has any relevance to our situation, but I’m fairly confident my daughter has viewed pornography simply because the numbers say that this is the case. I am anxious to explore this with some professional help because I desperately want to help her.

I am convinced she needs professional help. Not because we can’t do it as her parents or because we don’t love her enough or because she’s a serious case — simply because she is a good kid at a very impressionable time in her life and she needs help learning more about herself and communicating with those she loves and who love her.

I would really, really love your help here.

Thank you in advance!

James

Dear James,
You sound like an awesome dad. You are invested, concerned and responding to your daughter in a thoughtful, loving way.

Without knowing the specifics of your situation, I would say this: First, ask yourself what your gut is telling you about your daughter. Does she seem withdrawn from you and her mother at times but engaged other times? Or, is she sullen, withdrawn, spends a lot of time alone her room and always agitated with you and her mother? In other words, do you think she is simply struggling with a friendship/school/family issue or do you think she is depressed? The reason this is important to determine is because your next steps will depend upon how troubled you think she is.

Related: Yes, You Can Protect Your Kids from the Big Bad Media [2]

If you feel that she is overall pretty happy but you want to improve your relationship with her, then I recommend that you find a good counselor in town who likes working with teens and meet with that person alone first. Tell them your situation and see if you like him or her. If you do, then I would say something like this to your daughter: “Honey, call me crazy, but I feel that our relationship is strained. It may not bother you but it does me and if you would, I’d love for you to meet with a counselor a few times. I just need some help knowing how to be the dad I want to be.”

This statement makes you the focus and not her. Even teens who are in serious trouble don’t want to see counselors. They are afraid they will feel like a “psycho,” a “weirdo” — and that only losers need counseling (their words, not mine). But it’s pretty hard for a teen to resist a father who is saying, “Please help me be a better dad.”

Related: How to Reconcile with Your Kid if You Think You’ve Blown It [3]

If, however, you feel that your daughter is struggling with depression, I recommend you first take her to her physician. You should call her doctor ahead of time and fill him or her in on your concerns. Then, when your daughter goes in for her “check up” her doctor will probe and see if she is depressed. Having her doctor tell her that she needs help usually works better than having you tell her. Then her doctor can recommend treatment with a psychiatrist, counselor, etc.

Regardless of the route you take, remember this: What your daughter needs more than anything right now is to know that you are there to help, you love her and care for her emotional health, that you are on her side, that you are open to listening to what she has to say — and that no matter what has happened or will happen in her life, you will always love her. When a daughter believes those things, she is able to weather just about anything.

Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for more than 30 years. She is the author of the new book “Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need” [4] (Regnery Publishing, May 2017), as well as a number of digital parenting resources [5] and online courses, including The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.