Parenting --Teens/Daughters unusual interest

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Hi James. I have an eighteen year old daughter who is an exceptionally bright, creative, sensitive and caring individual. She is also "different". She enjoys dressing in black, loves heavy metal music and horror movies, has a boa constrictor for a pet etc She has never really fit in with her peers. She has a unique perspective on life and many unusual interests. I have always been very open-minded and non-judgmental, and have always tried to take an interest in the things she is interested in. My husband is more conservative, and thinks I shouldn't allow her to set herself apart because it will make life difficult for her. But I believe in embracing individuality and teaching my kids to be true to themselves. Anyway, she recently started writing to a couple guys in prison, one of whom committed several murders. She has always had a morbid fascination with serial killers, enjoyed reading true crime novels etc but then a lot of people are interested in that stuff. She wants to be a forensic psychologist. She started writing to these gentlemen because she was writing a school paper, but developed friendships with them and continued writing even after the paper had been completed. She says that these guys are not really evil, and explained that they had really horrible childhoods and deserve compassion and understanding. I think it's great that she is so compassionate, and can manage to see past their crimes and see their humanity (most people can't do that) but my husband doesn't like the idea at all and we have had numerous arguments about it. I just wanted to get a third party's point of view. What do you think about the situation? Would you allow your daughter/son to do this? She is eighteen though, which is technically an adult but my husband has the attitude that as long as she lives under our roof she must abide by our rules. I strongly disagree with his mentality. I would really appreciate getting an impartial second opinion. I hope you will not judge though. Thanks.

Answer
Hello Melinda,
It's easy to empathize with everyone in this situation. I certainly understand your husband's point of view, since I'm the father of a daughter. And I can appreciate the interest and the compassion your daughter has. Having worked with adolescents much of my career, I came to  enjoy the differentness of many teens. Underneath their black clothes and black nail polish, their disdain for the conservative and traditional, and their fascination with the Gothic, they often had compassionate and sympathetic views of others. And I see that you feel stuck in the middle between your husband and your child, while you also have some legitimate concerns about her communicating with dangerous criminals.
There were a lot of things I tolerated with my daughter, even though I didn't quite agree with what she was doing. When she turned 18, I no longer had as much influence and because she had strong ideas and opinions, I often had little ability to sway her. However, I was always interested in maintaining a relationship with her. That is, no matter what she did (or talked about doing), I wanted to maintain a friendship with her because I believed if I was going to exercise any influence over her it would be because of our affection and respect for each other -- not because I had more power and or because I was the father in the household. I was careful to avoid telling her what to do -- or even suggest that I knew better than she did what she should do. As a result, I can say #based on the benefit of my hindsight over 40 years as her father# that this approach worked for her. I could not be prouder of the kind of person she turned out to be.
That all being said, I think it is important for your husband that he try to maintain a relationship with your daughter and not try to use his power and status to try to persuade her to do what he wants #or doesn't want# her to do. He may alienate her and thus lose all of his ability to guide and influence her.
The thing is that we may not not always agree with the decisions our kids make, but we can respect them for having positive traits and characteristics. Sometimes they may use their positive traits in misguided ways (at least from our perspective), but we can still appreciate their intent.
I can envision your daughter growing up to be a psychologist or a lawyer who would champion the misunderstood or the disadvantaged.
Best wishes,
James Windell  

Parenting --Teens

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James Windell

Expertise

I am a parent trainer, psychotherapist, and author specializing in parenting issues.During the past 40 years I`ve worked with parents with discipline problems and challenging children. I give frequent lectures and workshops related to discipline, social skills, and aggressive children. I consult with various agencies and schools where there are child behavior problems. I am listed in the American Psychological Associations` media panel as an expert on parenting and am frequently quoted in leading magazines and newspapers.

Experience

I have worked in a juvenile court as a clinical psychologist and as a psychotherapist in private practice. In the Oakland County (MI) Juvenile Court, I developed an award-winning parent training program for parents of adolescent delinquents. In addition I have done group therapy with adolescent delinquents using a social skills-building model. I have consulted with courts, schools, churches, preschools, and domestic violence shelters in areas of parenting.

I received my BA with a major in Psychology in 1963 from Wayne State University. I got my MA in Clinical Psychology from Oakland University in 1972.

I am a member of the American Psychological Association and the Michigan Psychological Association. I have written pamplets, newspaper articles, and professional journal articles. I have been the Coping With Kids columnist for several newspapers for 26 years, and my columns appear weekly in the Staten Island Advance. I have been the author or co-author of 16 books. My books include, 8 WEEKS to A WELL-BEHAVED CHILD, CHILDREN WHO SAY NO WHEN YOU WANT THEM TO SAY YES, 6 STEPS TO AN EMOTIONALLY INTELLIGENT TEENAGER, and THE FATHERSTYLE ADVANTAGE. My most recent parenting book (2012) is THE EVETYTHING CHILD PSYCHOLOGY AND DEVELOPMENT BOOK. I have appeared on over 180 radio and TV shows related to my books and parenting. For more information about me, my books and columns, go to my website at Jimwindell.com

Education/Credentials
I have an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Oakland University.

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