Q. My 16-year-old daughter and her boyfriend are far too affectionate around my husband and me, and I worry that their public displays of affection are offensive to others, too. They're constantly touching -- hugging, kissing, and often making out in front of us. They've been dating for 6 months, so I expect some level of affection, but this is way over the top. How can I talk to my daughter about toning it down in front of others?
A. All the years you've parented your daughter, you've most likely given her clues, insights, and information about how to behave in a variety of situations. If she picked her nose you handed her a tissue, while telling her that picking her nose around others is inappropriate. If she talked with her mouth full, no doubt, you reminded her again and again to please wait to speak until she's finished chewing and swallowing her food.
As children develop over the years, they take on new experiences; they need parent's guidance, direction, judgment, and wisdom in each situation. They don't just know automatically how to behave given new circumstances.
So here your daughter is, making out with her boyfriend, with you and your husband present. It's not okay and both of them need to know it. Hand-holding, a quick kiss, or an affectionate hug might be okay. Sexual, passionate kissing is not. It's impolite and inappropriate; you're not being provincial or old-fashioned. It's simply off-putting for couples to fondle each other in the presence of others. Such intimacies between two people are for each other when alone.
You're wondering where else they're displaying their affection in public. It's probably wherever they go: school, the mall, athletic events, and friends' homes.
When you bring up this topic with your daughter and her boyfriend, realize that they will be either angry, embarrassed, anxious, or dismissive of your information. Prepare yourself for their initial response, remain calm as you talk, and hold your ground. They won't say, "Thanks for telling us. We really appreciate hearing from you. We'll change our behavior." Nevertheless, they'll take it in and respond, most likely respecting your wishes.
You must also worry about what's going on between them sexually when no one is around. If they're so free with their affection and use so little restraint in the presence of parents, you must feel they have even less sexual self-control when by themselves. Are you concerned that they're sexually active? If they are, there's the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. But sexual intercourse also challenges teens emotionally; it's wearing for even the most mature teenager.
It's time to talk seriously with your daughter. If you're reticent to do so, take her to Planned Parenthood for a professional to discuss her sexuality, particularly as it relates to her boyfriend.
Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of two parenting books, Mommy, I Have to Go Potty and Unplugging Power Struggles. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for HealthyKids.com and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times newspaper. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.
Originally published on HealthyKids.com, December 2004.