“My son is dating the most awful girl. Why can’t I get him to see that?” “I really don’t like my daughter’s boyfriend. How can I make her break up with him?” Many parents contact the parent coaching team every week asking questions about how to get their son or daughter to stop seeing the person they are dating. So just what do you do when your son or daughter is seeing someone you don’t like? Many parents are tempted to outright forbid their child from continuing to date the person. This isn’t something we would advise doing, though, because it usually isn’t effective. Forbidding your son or daughter from seeing someone can actually have the opposite effect because it can in a sense “romanticize” the relationship. (Anyone who knows the story of Romeo and Juliet can understand how this could happen!)
It’s usually more effective instead to limit the amount of time they can spend together. You would do this the same way you would limit time spent in other activities, such as hanging out with friends or going to the mall. It can also be helpful to have them spend time together at your house. As unpleasant as this may sound, it does allow you the opportunity of being able to supervise their time together.
Realize that it’s going to be difficult (if not impossible) to get your child to see the relationship from your perspective. As the saying goes, “Love is blind.” And, the more you try to “make” your son or daughter see their boyfriend or girlfriend’s flaws, the more likely they will be to come to their defense. As James Lehman points out in the article Does Your Child Have “Toxic” Friends? 6 Ways to Deal with the Wrong Crowd, criticizing or attacking your teen’s choice of friends tends to make the relationship stronger. This also applies to boyfriends and girlfriends, maybe even more so. You also run the risk of having your child stay in the relationship as a way to prove they are right and you are wrong.
I understand where a parent is coming from in this situation. I have been there and it’s not a fun place. My daughter had a boyfriend who seemed to be an okay kid at first, but I really didn’t like how he interacted with her at times. He would often make plans and then cancel at the last minute. When she would get upset about it, he had the uncanny ability of turning it around on her. As time went on, I started to REALLY not like this boy because it seemed as if my daughter spent more time being upset about the relationship than actually spending time with him. It was heart wrenching to watch and not try to make it better for her.
I knew my daughter well enough to realize it wasn’t going to be effective to try to make her talk about it with me. I would ask her from time to time if she wanted to talk and leave it at that. Sometimes, she chose to call a friend instead. Occasionally, though, I was given the chance to talk about what was going on. We would discuss what I saw happening and how she might be able to respond in a way she might feel better about. I tried to focus on things that could be observed, namely how her boyfriend was behaving toward her. Sometimes, I would simply ask her point blank if the relationship was really worth what she was going through. Mostly, I just tried to help her develop some resiliency in response to a difficult situation. In a sense, we problem solved ways she could deal with what was going on in her relationship. I kept as much judgment of him and the situation out of these conversations as I could. I’m pretty sure my daughter was aware of how I felt about her boyfriend; I just didn’t harp on it. Ultimately, my daughter had to come to her own conclusions and, eventually, she did end up breaking up with him. The silver lining to adolescent relationships is they tend to be short lived!
So, bottom line is, as much as you may not like the person your son or daughter chooses to date, it’s probably not going to be constructive to try and control that choice. Instead, focus on what you can control, namely your response and the limits/expectations you have around your child’s behavior in general.
Related content: Parenting Teens: Parental Authority vs. Peer Pressure
One thing to keep in mind — teen relationships that are abusive or violent are not what we are talking about here. If your son or daughter is involved in a relationship that is abusive or violent, we would encourage you to contact your local Domestic Violence hotline or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233) to discuss possible options for you and your teen.
Denise Rowden is a parent of two adult children and has been a parenting coach since 2010. She has worked in Special Education, Alternative Education and adolescent group homes. She has a BS in Psychology from the University of Southern Maine and is currently working on her Life Coach certification from the International Coach Federation.