Hey Annie,

I have a 17-year-old daughter who has her first boyfriend. I know she has experimented with drugs in the past, but not now. I also know that this boy is still using drugs and drinking, too. My daughter is crazy for this boy, and my wife and I are unsure of how to handle this. We do not mind if she has a nice boy, but this boy is a bad influence on an otherwise easily influenced girl. She is now sneaking around and lying to us to see him.

Your advice is greatly appreciated.
Worried Dad

Dear Worried Dad,

I think you are absolutely right to be concerned. You’ve got at least two warning signs that are telling you that this situation is problematic:

1. The boy drinks and uses drugs. That tells me that he’s not being monitored by his parents and that during the time he’s under the influence, he will not be thinking clearly. You don’t want your daughter around a guy who isn’t going to be taking her best interests into account. The fact that she has already “experimented” with drugs in the past indicates that there may be little or no barrier to her using again. This is especially the case with a girl who (to use your own words) is “crazy” for her new boyfriend and “easily influenced.” This sounds like a setup for trouble.

2. She’s sneaking around and lying to you and your wife in order to see him.

This is obviously a sign that she’s doing things she’s not proud of and doesn’t want you to find out about. I’m assuming you’ve caught her in these lies so you know what’s really going on. And when you catch her, what has been the consequence?

Your daughter needs two things, immediately…

1. She needs to be reined in because she’s not showing good judgment. If she has the freedom to continue coming and going as she pleases (Does she have access to a car?), this situation is going to continue. Hanging out with this boy it is quite likely, if she hasn’t already resumed using drugs and alcohol, that she will.

2. She may need counseling — in fact, one session for you, your wife, and your daughter with a licensed family therapist, would be a good place to start.

A family is a system and it sounds like communication has broken down here. When that happens and negative influences from the outside combine with “susceptibility” on the part of children and confusion on the part of the parents, problems can arise. They don’t get better by themselves. You and your wife are the leaders here, and you need help finding new ways to make your family stronger.

And, on an individual basis, it sounds like your daughter also needs to learn some things about herself, her inborn temperament, how she usually reacts when she’s pressured socially and wants to impress others, and what she can do to understand the consequences of her thoughtless choices (lying, sneaking around, doing drugs) — so that she can start to turn this around, not just for right now with this particular boy, but for the future. Otherwise, her inability to make healthy decisions based on a solid set of personal values will have her continually making choices she is likely to regret.

She is 17 and she’s still a minor child living under your roof. Her welfare is your responsibility. She won’t like any restrictions you place on her, but you’re not trying to win a popularity contest. You’re trying to protect your daughter from her own poor judgment. She has to realize that independence, use of the car (which I assume you pay for in terms of insurance, gas, maintenance, etc.) is not automatically her right — she has to earn her independence. The way she’s behaving should result in her losing privileges. She has to show that she’s trustworthy and can demonstrate good judgment in order to earn back those privileges.

My suggestion, first thing, is for you to have a conversation with the school counselor and/or a family therapist. Make an appointment for the three of you. Do it today. Get that in place first, then sit down and have a conversation with your daughter. Tell her what you know about what she’s been doing and how you feel about it. And tell her what’s going to happen next.

Your instincts are serving you well. You know your daughter needs help and now’s the time. You also realize that you and your wife need some help so that you can help your daughter.

I hope this gives you a starting place.

Good luck. And please, let me know how you’re doing.

In friendship,

Get Annie’s answers to other quandaries:

Should I let my teen daughter wear a thong?

I hate my son’s music!

How do you motivate an unmotivated learner

My daughter is sending sexy pix to guys!

My son used my credit card without my permission

What should I do about my daughter?

My daughter doesn’t fit in and gets excluded