The Healthy Family Connections Podcast
Episode 074 · Duration: 00:14:38
I Walked In On My Son And His Girlfriend
When your teenager makes poor choices, and then there’s a crisis, do you get hurt and upset?
Today we’re answering a question from Christine who writes:
My 17-year-old son has had a girlfriend for one year, who I approve of and like. I have come to the conclusion that they are sexually active, even though I don't know for sure. I am just assuming because I know what I was doing at age 17-18. Girlfriend came over the other day, & I left them alone in living room for about 20 minutes. I came out of my room and they were not in the living room. I approached his bedroom door, which was closed, opened it and walked in on them having sex. I lost it...screamed, cussed, and then called her mother and told her. I apologized to both of them the next day for screaming/cussing... I realize that I could have handled the situation better. My son is furious that I called the mother & now blames me because her parents are making her break up w/ him. He REFUSES to apologize to me for disrespecting me in that way. When I spoke to him a few days later about how he needs to apologize to me, he said, "apologize for what?" I am at my wit’s end... his father and I are divorced and I told him to stay at his father's house until he was ready to take some blame and tell me he is sorry. It's been almost 2 weeks and still nothing..... I miss him...I just don't know where to go from here.
Thanks for your question Christine.
I’ll begin my response by sharing that you asked this question on the comment section of my blog titled “How To Make Your Teen Apologize”. Now I can’t imagine how I would have titled the blog that way, because the truth is we can’t make our teens apologize any more than we can make our teens do or not do anything. Fortunately, we don’t need to because, for the most part, we have good kids, including you Christine, who want to do well, who need us and when we guide them in the right direction, let them know that we’re on their side and care about their feelings, and establish accountability to certain responsibilities and behaviors, they generally choose healthy behaviors.
So when you told your son, either you apologize or leave, you were trying to MAKE him do something and now he’s letting you know that you can’t.
Take A Deeper Look At The Incident
Christine, before we decide how to take a next step, let’s look at a few things:
The act of you walking in on your son and his girlfriend while they were exposed and vulnerable and then you “lost it...screamed, cussed” was quite traumatic for them. Obviously it shocked you, but you could imagine them going from the powerful, positive, intimate sexual feelings they were having, to being physically exposed and you raging. That’s pretty traumatic stuff. Can you imagine being in that situation? That would be quite horrible.
Then there’s the question of walking in on them when the door was closed. If a teenager has their door closed, knocking first is important and then wait for them to let you in or ask you in before entering. Kids need their privacy and are entitled to a certain amount of that. Of course, that doesn’t mean they have carte blanche in their bedrooms.If a teenager has their door closed, knocking first is important and then wait for them to let you in or ask you in before entering. Kids need their privacy and are entitled to a certain amount of that.Click To Tweet
I know you are upset that your son decided he could have sex with his girlfriend in his room, and with you at home. That makes sense.
But my question is why would he think he could? Is he generally that brazen and without a sense of social norms? Do you have clear social norms in your home?
You said that you assumed that he and his girlfriend were sexually active; did you talk with him about it? Did you talk about making sure that if they were sexually active, that it was completely consensual and he wasn’t pressuring his girlfriend? That they were using appropriate birth control and STD safety measures? Did you talk about the importance of prioritizing and growing other aspects of the relationship, as in sharing common interests and activities and talking and caring about feelings? I’m not suggesting you or any parent should lecture on these subjects, but having conversations about these areas is very important.
If you hadn’t had these conversations, then your son’s behavior makes a certain kind of sense.
I’m also curious as to why you called the girl’s parents and told them what happened. Why not have a talk with her first, find out if her parents know she is sexually active and if they are supporting her with the important sexual health measures, if not, why not. Perhaps, make an agreement with her that she’ll talk with her parents if she hasn’t. If she doesn’t feel she can talk with her parents, who else might be able to support her? What’s your goal or intention here? From my point of view, the goal would be to help her learn and grow and to that end, she needs you to be supportive. Even if you felt you needed to inform her parents, it should be done from a position of helping her, not getting her in trouble.
Apologies And Disrespect
Let’s go back to the apology issues. You say you want your son to apologize for disrespecting you. When kids break rules or do things wrong, are they disrespecting us? Their behavior might be disrespectful, but they aren’t disrespecting us per se. And it’s always a mistake to take our children’s behavior personally. Right now, your son feels he’s the offended party and you think you are. So it’s very personal and it’s a control battle, and we know where control battles get us. There is no learning taking place here for either of you.When kids break rules or do things wrong, are they disrespecting us? Their behavior might be disrespectful, but they aren’t disrespecting us per se.Click To Tweet
So Christine, I’m going to make an observation here; your behavior is way too reactive. And, you take things way too personally. Those characteristics will invite control battles, they interfere with emotional intimacy and they interfere with interpersonal effectiveness of all kinds. These characteristics of reactivity and taking things personally interfere with learning and growing and I think learning and growing are vital to happiness and success in life
So let’s think about what you can do to make things better. You gave your son a consequence that you couldn’t live with so now what?
For starters, take in and think about what I’ve shared with you. You don’t want you and your son to kiss and make up. You want this to be a learning opportunity for yourself and your son. It would be a good idea for you to make some appointments with a good therapist and talk about your reactivity and tendency to take things personally and ask:
- Why do I have these characteristics; where do they come from?
- How can I become more thoughtful and less reactive with my responses to situations?
- How can I become more confident and take things less personally?
Obviously, I don’t know the answer to these questions, but you can look to childhood issues and your innate temperament for answers. Christine, I’m guessing you had your own traumas in your childhood.
Steps To Take Going Forward
Going forward, it would be good to talk with your son’s father and discuss the situation with him. See if he’ll support you in working on a therapeutic solution with your son.
The biggest risk here, from my point of view, is long-term parent-child alienation. As your son finishes up his high school years and enters the next phase of his life, we want you and he to be in a positive relationship with each other.
Once you have a handle on your own behavior here you can talk with your son or write him a letter that goes something like this:
I’m truly sorry for several mistakes I made in dealing with this situation with you. I know they hurt you and you are understandably upset with me.
In the first place, I never discussed your relationship with your girlfriend with you and didn’t talk with you about healthy and appropriate relationship and sexual behavior. I’m sorry for not doing my job there.
I’m also sorry for not knocking and then walking in on you. Even though your behavior was inappropriate, it wasn’t an emergency that I needed to barge in on.
I’m also sorry I lost it emotionally; you deserve a more mature parent who doesn’t lose it when things go wrong.
I also apologize for calling your girlfriend’s parents when I was upset and upsetting them. I could have talked with her and dealt with it in a more supportive and not a “telling on her” kind of way. I’m really sorry about what I did and how it affected you and her. I’m also sorry that I took your behavior so personally and told you to leave. I realize that your behavior, while it was disrespectful, wasn’t about me, it wasn’t directed at me at all. These are all things I’ve learned from this event, and are all things I’m truly sorry for.
I have my own growing up to do. When you’re ready, I’d like you to come home and we can talk more about this and other important things. I want your last year in high school to be rewarding for you and a positive experience for our relationship. I want you to end your high school years in a mode of learning and growing and I’d like to be able to discuss important issues with you with greater depth and patience on both our parts. I’m sorry for my reactivity and want us both to learn to be better communicators, better listeners.
Now, Christine, instead of demanding an apology, you’re demonstrating and role modeling taking responsibility and making amends, and that will be more significant and influential with him than making him apologize.Demonstrating and role modeling taking responsibility and making amends will be more significant and influential with your teen than making him apologize.Click To Tweet
Christine, it would be fabulous if the two of you saw a therapist together and worked on how to put these ideas into action.
So listeners, let’s all learn from Christine here. Let’s look inward and ask ourselves these questions:
- Where am I reacting without thinking? When I do, how am I limiting potentially good outcomes for others and myself?
- Where am I taking things personally? When I do, what am I failing to learn about the other person and the situation?
By being willing to face and improve these two essential characteristics, our lives will have amazingly improved outcomes.
Thanks for tuning in today listeners and special thanks to Christine for sharing her challenging situation and asking her question.
I’d like to ask that if you are enjoying the Healthy Family Connections Podcast, take a minute and leave a review on iTunes for me. It will let others know that they too can benefit from tuning in. I’ve been reminding folks for a few weeks now and you know what, you’re responding, thanks for that.
Please remember, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.
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