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How Can I Protect My Daughter from Making Poor Choices?

Dear Ryan,

I have a 27-yr-old daughter who ventured out into the world two years ago and she is demonstrating some very dangerous behavior. She appears to be trying to make a statement by telling everyone, literally, that she is on her own now and makes her own decisions. Recently she started visiting not dating sites, but the most dangerous booty call sites. She is publishing suggestive videos (dressed provocatively) and refuses to acknowledge the dangers. I fear she might be flirting with horror to purposely get hurt, or worse. She won’t listen to anybody and acts as if she doesn’t care, because “you can’t tell me what to do.” What can a parent do if they think their adult child is going to end up getting hurt? What rights does a parent have to save a child from her bad choices?

Daunted Dad

Dear Daunted Dad,

Two things: I ventured out into the world when I was about your daughter’s age and tried to make a statement, refused to acknowledge dangers, flirted with horrors to the point of hurting myself, and let nobody tell me what to do. I am also, today, the father of three teenage daughters.

The point is I sympathize. When I first read your question I thought about my own path, my own daughters, and my own desires to influence them. So please know that what follows below is grounded in compassion.

This is what I hear you asking: How can I prevent my 27-year-old daughter from living her own life?

I know that sounds stark, and I’m sure you don’t intend to come across that way. You simply want to protect your daughter, not prevent her from living her life. And yet there is no way to “protect” an adult from making her own choices, that I know of, short of trying to control her.

I’m inclined to think you’ve been operating from this space for some time because, in my experience, a 27-year-old doesn’t go around bragging of her independence unless it is newly found. My guess is that you’ve been “protecting” your daughter from her own autonomy, or trying to, for about 27 years. She is now responding in a way you wish she wouldn’t.

Here’s what I suggest you do.

Give up trying to save her. Not because she is a lost cause, but because you can’t. Respect her autonomy and respect the limits of your influence.

Decide what you really want. Do you want to protect your daughter from making her own choices, or do you want a relationship with her? I’m not suggesting this is a dichotomy but rather a paradox. If you attempt to protect your daughter from her choices, you’ll likely hurt your relationship, drive her away, and lose influence. If, on the other hand, you focus on building a relationship, you may hold some influence in her life. That does not mean you’ll get to control her.

Make it safe. I’ll assume that what you really want is a place in her life. If you’re to salvage or strengthen whatever you currently have, you’ll need to connect, not protect or correct. So, no lecturing, no preaching, no condemning, no weighing in on her decisions—unless she asks. Make this your new mantra: “When inclined to correct, try to connect.” What does that look like for you? Dinner invitations? A shared activity? Listening?

Express yourself. You may not be able to protect your daughter from her choices, but you can tell her how you feel. If you choose to do so, ask for permission first. If granted, proceed by stating how you see things and expressing your concerns, not your wishes. Again, make connection your goal. This may require an unfamiliar and uncomfortable level of vulnerability.

Finally, go easy. You’re fallible just like your daughter is, and you’re also worthy of the same kind of compassion that she is. Remember that as you move forward.

I hope these suggestions help you increase what’s important here: not power over your daughter, but power over yourself and your ability to foster a connection with her.

Good luck,

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5 thoughts on “How Can I Protect My Daughter from Making Poor Choices?”

  1. KayCee VanCamp

    Wow…a single insight can change everything….yes. Thank you Ryan for such wisdom. I so appreciate this perspective, the mother of 6 grown kids….connect! Amen!

  2. trudy cooper

    Excellent advice and perspective, and so clearly stated. Thank you.

    As parents, we often don’t realize–except in long term retrospect–how we contributed to an over-reaction in our children. I find all the suggestions here to be very helpful in relating to my adult son. I strenuously protected him as a child, since he faced so much rejection from teachers and others due to his behavioral issues / diagnoses. Rightly, he felt labeled by doctors and schools and was treated quite unfairly. He felt abandoned by everyone in his family except for me and his older brother. I was constantly standing up on his behalf, which had bad as well as good consequences. Now–whenever stressed–he tends to shout out his anger about how he felt as a child. He brags to the point of putting down others in relation to how exceptional he is (and of course, he is–intelligent, athletic, strong, reliable, determined, generous). I know that my role now is to support the view of himself that he feels was not supported as well as it could have been during his childhood–his strengths and his right to just be a child, instead of controlled by teaches poorly equipped to deal with differences among children. It’s not always easy, because his excesses and lashing out unfairly are often very hard to bear.

  3. Steve Taylor

    Express yourself but ask for permission first… and express your concerns, not your wishes. Got it! Thanks Ryan.

  4. Steven Plum

    So in other words let her know that I don’t like this dangerous behavior, wait to see if she answers one of these “not who I say I am “ reply’s by some methhead that beats her beyond recognition and say “I told you so”. Wow Ryan thanks the hair on my head is growing back already.

  5. Ann

    My 23 year old daughter got pregnant on purpose by a guy she’s left multiple times. Her and the baby have lived with her dad and I since our granddaughter was born. Now, she says the guy isn’t that bad and wants to take the baby from a beautiful home and safe area into poverty of a run down Mexican community up in New Jersey. We want to protect the innocent 7 month old, but how? Our daughter is determined to marry the father who has never come to see his baby. He’s only seen her twice because our daughter took the baby on two separate occasions on a 32 hour round trip train ride.

    We are heartbroken at the environment of a boarding house where she wants to take our granddaughter.

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