How to Respond When Your Teenager Has Been Sexually Active: Part I

What if you had “The Talk” with your kids and tried everything you knew how to do and trained them up according to the Bible and yet your teenager ignores everything still making the mistakes that you tried so hard to keep her from? My oldest has always been challenging to raise to be obedient, because she is so high spirited, but what happened to my little girl? She started to grow up and not listen to the advice and training she had received her whole life.

I know there were several things that I allowed that started her down the road to throwing away all that she had been taught and that eventually led to her giving up her virginity, both spiritually and physically. I have come to know that I have to take part of the blame. I always felt I could trust her and as a result I let her have too many freedoms before she was ready for them. We got her a cell phone early and let her have an Xbox 360 and TV in her room not really giving much thought to how much trouble she could get in with that freedom. I also made the mistake of not letting her have a lot of other freedoms that she could have made safe decisions with, such as choosing what type of movies to watch, what time to go to bed, little things that were not necessarily a big deal, but because I still thought of her as a little kid, I didn’t change how I treated her as she grew up.

I know how it started too. It started with me making certain compromises, though I knew they were not right for her, such as allowing her to “date” a boy from church. That relationship did not work out because he was immature and she was not ready, but what I did not realize was that having a boyfriend made her feel special in a new way—and she did not want to give that up. She then started to sneak around behind our back and started “online” dating this boy she met through Xbox. That relationship turned to where she started “sexting” with him (watch those warning signs, avoidance, sneakiness, lying). Of course, I wanted to rip the guy’s head off and wanted to ground my daughter and lock her away for life, but I knew I couldn’t. Her betrayal in this, unknown to me at the time, was only going to get worse because even though she didn’t want to disobey us, those feelings that she got from some boy made her feel really special and she wanted to feel that even more.

So we took away her phone and internet for a very long time and had conversations with her left and right. This is where I as a dad had to swallow my pride and be open to really having conversations with her. So for the next year, we had dates together and had some really frank conversations. We finally got to the point where she felt safe enough to open up to me a little bit and explain to me that she was not my little girl anymore, and that she wanted to be able to make her own decisions. I had to change my way of parenting because it was not the way I was raised and I fought myself on trusting her. I had to start trusting her to make her own decisions and not come to me for permission to do everything. I mean at this point she had already broken our trust, but I had to give her “permission” to fail or at least make some of her own choices. I couldn’t just dole out rules and expect her to follow them. I had to actually start communicating with her and start giving her a place in the family where she could make decisions and choices (within reason of course), without fear of me just saying no or laying down the “law”. I had to change how I even addressed her, such as treating her as an adult and giving her the opportunity to explain her case and come to conclusions on her own.

Fast forward half a year and she started hanging out with this boy from school—and even though she was not allowed to date—she started seeing him behind our backs. We invited the boy into our house because my daughter felt like we could witness to him and he began going to church with us.

Earlier this year we discovered that she had been sneaking him into our house while we were sleeping and using her sister’s phone to text him when she could. It eventually culminated to where they made some very bad mistakes. This was a boy we opened up our house to and kept a watchful eye on when they were together, and my daughter and I had even talked about how that she wanted me to give the boy a chance to prove himself to me, even though they weren’t allowed to date.

When she first betrayed our trust with the “sexting”, I felt every emotion in the world. Anger, fear, doubt, mistrust, and a broken heart are just a few of the emotions I went through and am still struggling with. I could not begin to imagine how my little girl chose to ignore everything we had taught her and pursue these boys that only treated her this way because they wanted to get into her pants.

It was one of the hardest times in my parenting life when she did this. I did not know what I was going to do. I was praying and having emotions of failure hit me all the time. I just didn’t know what to do. As time went forward, I realized that I had to start developing a deeper relationship with my daughter. I had start engaging her where she was at and start to trust her with making her own decisions. This decision on my part started us down a path that opened up our relationship and the ability to deal with more serious problems and challenges later on.

So how as a father do I handle this betrayal of trust and how do I still keep an open line of communication open with my daughter, yet deal out the discipline she needed and not push her away? For me, I do not know all of these answers yet, but I know it has to start with me making a decision to meet my daughter at where she is at.

So here we are last month and we learn that my daughter had been sneaking this boy into our house and doing things that we would not approve of (even though the culture at large says it is ok). On one hand I was utterly heartbroken, but on the other hand, we had developed enough of a relationship that she opened up and told me everything. Believe me that it took all of my willpower just to listen and not yell or say how wrong she was, but really listen to what she was saying. I learned many things about my daughter that night, and in the weeks that have followed; about how emotionally attached she gets and how much she feels. She has always acted strong, so I never gave much thought to how she was internalizing those emotions, now that she is a teenager. She even confessed that the reason she did it is because she thought he was “the one” and that she could see herself marrying him (I don’t like that view right now, but who am I to say what God has planned in her future).

On one hand I have the right to scold, but how much more of an impact can I have if I just listen and try to help coach her on these very strong feelings of affection and the natural desire for sex and how good it feels, while still coaching her in what is best for not only her well-being, but also what God has planned for her and her future spouse.

As a parent, I had always hoped that I would never have to deal with this. That through all of the training and talking and being honest with our mistakes, that she would not do the same things or make the same mistakes that her mother and I made, and make some of those very adult decisions that could have lasting impacts on her future. Now that this is no longer true, how do I go forward in not only showing my daughter the path of true love and happiness, while continuing to coach her through her choices? I certainly do not know all of the answers yet and I probably will never know all of it, but I know I can try taking baby steps and doing the little things to show her that I love and cherish her as my daughter. These are some of the things that I have learned so far in my journey with my daughter.

  1. Do not fall into the natural temptation of wanting to fix the problem. As dads it is really easy for us to fall into this role. It is a natural tendency, so we have to make an even greater effort not to do this.
  1. LISTEN to her! As men, we tend to want to offer our opinion right away or even try to offer helpful advice. DON’T! Put yourself aside and just really listen following up with questions, and if you have to, repeat critical points that she makes so that she knows you are paying attention.
  1. This should go without saying, but give her your undivided attention. Turn off the TV, put down the phone, and step away from the computer. You cannot truly focus on someone if your attention is diverted to something else or if you are thinking of something else. Give your mind and attention to your conversation with her.
  1. Don’t judge or condemn. Coach and guide her.

I know that each of my children will be different to deal with and that I will have to take different approaches with each of them, but the critical choice is to let them feel like they can trust you and help them understand that you will always love them no matter what. At times, my daughter does not want to talk to me. And at times she does. The point I have to remember is that I am always available and that I tell her that I love her no matter what. I choose to give them a safe place to live and vent frustrations and even a safe place to make bad decisions. Not that there are not natural consequences to her decisions, but that she will have a safe place to deal with them. Sometimes love must be tough as well. Sometimes the consequences might be that she has deal with her choices and not have a bailout from mom and dad, but rather she must face them.

I hope and pray every day that she won’t have to deal with the consequences of bad choices, but I know that I cannot stop her from making her own choices and my only hope is that she feels safe at home and that she knows that I love her.

The Skit Guys video kind of sums up how I felt prior to really establishing a relationship with my daughter.

It is something that we as fathers often say “go talk to your mother about it”, because we don’t like to talk about sex with our kids. It makes us uncomfortable. But a lesson can be taken from this regarding our interaction with our daughters and how we treat them when they come to us with news that disappoints us.

Read Part II of Rich’s blog here.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Thanks for your post:

One Question: Did you have your daughter's permission to write this post? She now has her personal life displayed publicly. This seems to have been cathartic for you, but will she be okay having her very personal life all over a blog? As a father, I'd be concerned about the entire world knowing my daughters full name, age, and sexual life. 

RichTuliszewski More than 1 year ago
Thank you Anonymous for your question! This happened a while ago and I battled even writing this as I am a private person (on top of being worried about creepers), and I don't like to share these kinds of things. But I did indeed have my daughter's permission to do this. She recently re-dedicated her life to the Lord and has renewed her relationship with Jesus and has been given a second virginity and has radically turned her life around. I have had many conversations with her since that time and we have both come to a greater understanding and desire to help others in similar situations. I had already made peace about this situation and my relationship with my daughter has already been healed. Thank you for the concern and I do take it seriously. 
baldwin_roy More than 1 year ago
Rich - I cannot even begin to express my appreciation for you and your daughters transparency.  Thank you.  So many of the emotions you captured oftentimes stay behind the walls of a home and if there is a pregnancy we cover it up.  God in the midst of our failures never turns his back on us...He embraces us.  

Thank you!!!  
RichTuliszewski More than 1 year ago
Thanks Roy. This happened some time ago and it is encouraging that my daughter has changed in recent months and is willing to move beyond what had happened. It is also encouraging that my prayers are working and that being transparent, not only helps me but also helps my kids make better choices or at least make right choices when it matters. Thank you!