parent opinion

ASK HOLLY: 'How do I balance my teen daughter's independence with her safety?'

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Dear Holly,

My daughter’s 15 and going out in the world without me more and more. I feel this constant rolling pull between knowing that’s exactly what 15-year-olds are meant to be doing, and a real anxiety that she’s having to make “grown up” choices without me by her side. The world seems so scary out there. Do you have any advice for how to handle balancing encouraging independence with safety? I know we’re all in this together, but sometimes parenting teens feels so isolating. 

Thank you, 

Anxious Annie.


Dear Anxious Annie,

When I was 15 I thought my mum knew nothing. As far as I was concerned, she grew up in a different time (she did), didn’t understand my world (she did) and barely knew me at all (she did). Being a teenager means pushing back on the people who are always around, irritatingly wanting to guide you, protect you, save you from yourself. And for me, it’s not really been until I look at my own teenager that I realise just how well my mother did know me, and how all that care came from the most loving of places. 

Of course, it was the 1980s, and so "care" was a lot less hands-on than it is now. "Be back by 9.30," my mum would call as I wandered off with my friends to do God knows what, God knows where, without a small tracking computer in my pocket that she could contact me on at any time. Ah, it was a simpler time. 

Now, the way I try to counteract all that eye-rolling from my daughter is to sneak in "together-time" in the guise of doing something else. Lately we've been "working" together for the first time, when I've been teaching her about cars and tyres and life, making content for Bob Jane T-Marts. The idea is built on the very real insight that when I'm driving my daughter somewhere she's about to be out in the world without me, whether that's football training or a party, I can drop little nuggets of wisdom on the way. Sometimes, she even picks them up. 


To be honest, our daughters would probably be right in thinking we don’t understand their worlds. Technology has changed childhood completely, and our kids are never truly disconnected from us, or their friends. But while we all quietly hyperventilate about how stressful that sounds, let’s also consider the facts. Teenagers are drinking less than they used to, and engaging in less risk-taking behaviour. Less privacy = less mischief. Be happy or sad about that, depending on your own teenage years. 

But I don’t think that’s the sort of thing you’re really worried about, as your 15-year-old spends more time out of your sight. What you’re worried about is her making good choices. You’ve spent 15 years cramming your girl with the values and advice you think might help guide her away from harm. You’ve withheld the soft drinks and lollies for as long as it was feasible. Taught her that kind people are your kind of people. Told her what a red flag is. And while you were there to see that she chose right — chose kind, chose sensible — you had evidence that you’d done a good job. 

Now, you’re flying blind, and you just have to hope your car lessons stick. And look, some of them will. And some of them she’s going to have to work out for herself. And the thing about you is, as I can tell from the empathy and kindness dripping from your question, is that you’re going to be there at home for her whichever way things go. 


The other reason that the trips to Bob Jane T-Marts have been great for us is that otherwise, daughter likes to talk to me — fill me in on all the choices I’ve missed — at the most inopportune times. Fifteen minutes after lights out. When I’m elbow-deep in washing. When I’m on deadline. So at least if we're on our way for a tyre check-up, I can try to check-in with her at a time we both have no other distractions. That’s when the latest friendship drama will come tumbling out, or an anxiety about a teacher, or the questioning of a thing she said to someone, once. 

And the thing we can do, wherever we are, however we feel, is be glad her choices are still our business, and hope we can keep steering her towards whatever choices will keep her most herself. Even from afar. 

Good luck x

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