I've got yet another chapter for my book Things Parents Do That Make Me Want to Throttle Them. (Gee, pretty soon this is going to be a real book.)
Over the past couple of months, I've heard from several distressed mothers, who have all told me different versions of the same story. Their young daughters are involved with very bad men. These men are manipulative. They're deceitful. In some cases, they're flat-out dangerous. And their daughters are hooked.
Before I get to the parent-throttling part (which I know you're all trying to figure out at this point), I want to explore this larger phenomenon for a minute. From what these mothers have told me, these are good girls. They were raised to love God and do what's right. So what happened? Why do nice girls get messed up with bad boys? And why does it happen so often?
The question intrigues me because a) I see it so often in the teens I work with; b) when I think about the prospect of parenthood, and the fact that babies tend to eventually become teenagers, this one ranks right up there in the “parents' worst nightmare” department”; and c) I'm female, and I remember the tendency from my own younger years.
What makes “bad boys” so appealing to young girls? I'm not exactly sure. Part of it is probably that, on one level, they know what these girls want. Young women are very emotional creatures. (Actually, we older ones often tend in that direction ourselves.) They love to talk, and cry, and discuss their feelings for hours on end, and then cry some more. The average teenaged boy looks at this and says “Huh?” And then he goes out and plays basketball.
But there's another kind of teenaged boy. He's very masculine, very “tough,” usually very rebellious. And yet, with her, he talks about his feelings. He cries. He emotes. It makes her feel special, like she can “reach” him in a way no one else can. And she eats it up.
It's ironic, because we all know that boys should be more open about their feelings. But, in this case, the reasons for all of this “openness” aren't always healthy. Sometimes it's sincere. In these cases the boy's past has often been severely troubled, and a “good girl” wants to be the one to make it all right for him.
Unfortunately, she's in way over her head, and severely troubled boys are likely to act out in very bad ways, despite her best efforts to “save” him.
More often, I think, all of that emoting is more about manipulation than sincerity. These young guys have already figured out what women want – a tough, masculine man who's willing to share his feelings. So they put the package together. They talk about their “feelings,” or whatever they think a girl wants their feelings to be. They cry on cue. They turn on the charm. And young, innocent girls fall for it.
Here's where the parent-throttling part comes in. It's not surprising that a young girl will fall for a teenaged con man. But what I can't believe is how often the parents, in the beginning, fall for it, too. So many of these distraught parents tell me, “At first, he seemed so nice. Polite, respectful. The perfect gentleman. We thought he'd be a wonderful boyfriend for her.”
It's ironic. Their daughters are in bad relationships. The parents are desperate. They're considering switching schools, leaving the state, restraining orders — anything to put distance between their daughter and this person. And yet, in the beginning, they encouraged the relationship. They (especially the mothers) were the ones saying, “You should go out with him. He seems so nice.” When their daughters were initially considering breaking off with these boys, their mothers were the ones saying, “Give him a chance. Don't break up with him yet.”
I don't know why parents do this. Some may be living vicariously through their kids. Others, afraid of what may be lurking out there in the dating world, figure that if they can latch their kids up with someone who looks safe, everything will be okay.
Here's the point: people aren't always what they seem. And teenagers are no exception. Remember Eddie Haskell on Leave it to Beaver? He sucked up to parents (“Yes, Mrs. Cleaver.”) and then instigated all kinds of mischief behind their backs. Modern Eddie Haskell's aren't nearly that transparent. And they can do a whole lot more damage than just convincing Wally and Beaver to climb the wrong tree.
Just because a kid is polite, or serves at Mass, or holds doors, or says all the right things, it doesn't mean he is truly a good kid. It doesn't mean he's healthy. And it doesn't mean he'll respect your daughter.
Don't push your teenagers to date one person over another — especially if they're resisting. They know the person in question better than you do. Maybe there's something going on that your teen doesn't want to tell you about. Maybe she's just “sensing” something that you're not close enough to smell.
Personally, I don't think parents, or anyone else, should push kids to date at all. I don't think teen dating, in the way teen dating is done today, is remotely healthy. It puts them in situations where they're under tremendous pressure to do things they shouldn't be doing. I think that the older they are when they start dating, the better able they'll be to handle the pressure and make good decisions.
When teens try to grow up too fast, they tend to make big mistakes. Don't compound them by making the same mistakes yourself.
Mary Beth Bonacci is an internationally known speaker, author and syndicated columnist. She has written two books, We're on a Mission from God and Real Love, and has developed numerous videos, including her video series, also entitled Real Love. Visit her website at www.reallove.net.