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Risky behaviour

(15 Posts)
rocket88 Fri 20-May-16 02:29:28

My wife and I are grandparents and guardians to an 18 year old girl, who was taken into care after being neglected and abused (not sexually) by her parents. We fought an expensive legal battle to gain custody, and, ten years ago, won.

That, of course was just the first of many battles.

My current problem, one I'd prefer not to discuss with people who know her, is that she's fairly recently become sexually active. She thought some time ago she was gay or bi (frankly I didn't mind gay, initially, having been a lad who was quite exploitative of young ladies back in the sixties) I now realise quite how bad a deal girls got/get. I thought girls might just be kinder to each other in relationships, but-

She came home drunk a few weeks ago, distraught, quite incoherent, upset that, having had sex with a boy, and another girl, (separately) neither had been discreet about it, so "everyone" knew. I wasn't terribly sympathetic, knowing that was par for the course for boys (I don't know him, but even as lads in the sixties we compared notes, so the typical young male now is no different) the girl's known to us though, and an attention seeker sensationalist type. The results were as predictable as night following day. (but not to a teenager, perhaps) She self harmed as a result of this, ended up in A & E, and when I called school to explain her absence, it transpired that even her sixth form head was aware of rumours, but was understanding, and said she'd look out for her upon her return to school. Her self harm was superficial cutting of her arms. Quite spectacular to see, with a little loss of blood, but not life threatening. I don't understand it, but have seen it on prisoners' arms when I worked in a prison. It seems to release pressure/tension in some way, perhaps gaining sympathy from others.

What her self harm also does is preclude employment in some industries (armed services, for instance, or customer facing situations where a uniform shirt may have short sleeves) There will be many other employment avenues which are now closed, and given the economy...

Anyway, the latest is that she has been introduced, by her maternal aunt, to a swingers club, and is now into bondage, and has a relationship with a 25 year old man. She's being treated for depression, is on medication, and, having met a 25 year old at a swingers' club, is into bondage. Not, in my view, a good, or safe, combination.

She did offer to introduce him to me, but I didn't think that would have been wise, or ended well, at the time. I told her to keep him away from me, never to bring him near our house, but now, I feel I ought to meet him (without her) to assess him, and ensure he knows he's dealing with a vulnerable young person, and what a responsibility that is.

She's legally an adult, but ought to be preparing for her A levels, not being sexually exploited (if that's what it is) I want her to be qualifying for a career, or at least to be able to compete in the jobs market, and support herself adequately. This situation is not helping. She is currently repeating a school year.

I'm seeking serious suggestions, please, flippancy will not be appreciated. I'm quite at my wits end. Has anyone had similar experiences, and a good ultimate outcome? My inclination is towards damage limitation, in other words, she's going to self destruct whatever I say or do, so I'm tempted to load all her belonging in the back of the car, and deposit them, and her, at either the aunt's or the boyfriend's home, for either of them to pick up the pieces. I won't see her hurt, then, only (perhaps) hear about it later. The aunt and boyfriend seem able to exert more pressure upon her to do what they think is quite "normal" than we can to get her ready for a world where the competition for jobs is tough. I'm at a loss right now. Anyone got any constructive thoughts?

cronetto Fri 20-May-16 07:39:09

You are parenting a fragile young woman who although 18 clearly needs support.

I think one thing that may not be helping is that your ideas on the way teenagers act are quite old-fashioned. Things are very different now - or perhaps they are the same, but viewed differently. In any case, the first thing you can do is to accept that her sexual decisions are not for you to comment on. She will see your interest and concern as judgemental criticism, and this will push her away.

Try to make your time with her as positive as possible. Talk to her about her boyfriend, meet him, find something good to say, to him and to her. Set your best efforts to getting her to see a therapist, perhaps bill it as 'someone to talk to', and access any support networks you can.

Don't worry too much about her career prospects. I know it is tempting to think that good work prospects are fundamental, but really, in this case, getting her through this difficult time without major damage is much, much more important.

There is a battle going on for influence between you and your wife, and the aunt and boyfriend. Make sure you are calm, welcoming and accepting.

Post on here (or perhaps double up in relationships, for more replies) and brace yourself to hear some stuff that you don't like. Don't get offended, filter the replies and think them through.

I say all this as someone who acquired a child with a similar background (not as a grandparent though).

Stick with it smile

corythatwas Fri 20-May-16 11:18:51

Very wise words there by cronetto.

Speaking as the parent of a vulnerable young teen (chronic health issues rather than family background), this bit particularly resonated with me: "Don't worry too much about her career prospects. I know it is tempting to think that good work prospects are fundamental, but really, in this case, getting her through this difficult time without major damage is much, much more important. "

After having seen my dd self-harm and repeatedly attempt suicide, I came to realise that the most pressing worry was not whether this bright and well read girl, the child of academic parents, would get good grades in her exams and get to uni: it was whether she would actually stay alive. Because, you know, it is very difficult to hold your own in today's competitive society if you are... well... dead.

Three years later, dd is working in an unskilled service job, while most of her friends are at uni, and I am unspeakably proud of her. This is the girl who three years ago was cowering in bed unable to face the reality of an everyday school day, hurting herself for the same reasons that you might dig your nails into your palm in the dentist's chair- because that pain deadens the nerves to a greater pain.

And here she is, getting out of bed at the appropriate time every day, washing her own uniform, getting off to work, dealing with customers all day long, never mind how unreasonable or demanding they may be, helping friends out by taking on overtime, learning new skills. I can't begin to tell you how wonderful that feels or how glad I am we held out and came through it together. And most of all, how proud I am of her (oh yes, I said that... grin)

If I can take any credit for that, I think it must be for being able to let her feel that nothing she could tell me could ever be so bad that I could not listen to her, or would not want to listen to her.

I know the frustration, but really it is so worth it when you can look back and see that you have come through.

corythatwas Fri 20-May-16 11:29:59

"It seems to release pressure/tension in some way, perhaps gaining sympathy from others."

Last time I had surgery it consisted of my GP hacking away for 40 minutes at an infected cyst without painkillers, having rather optimistically thought it would be a 5 minute job. I clenched my teeth and would certainly have dug my nails into my flesh if able. It really, seriously was not about gaining sympathy: it was about deadening that other pain.

This is what your granddaughter is doing: she is in pain and trying to deal with it.

Don't let yourself think of it as attention seeking if attention seeking is something negative in your eyes. (Some of us might argue that a teen who seeks attention does it because they have a problem that needs attending to).

Help her to find a therapist because that may help her to deal with feelings of unhappiness, but do not let her think this is a way of dealing with her sexuality. Being sexually active is normal at her age, and I see nothing inherently shameful about having sex with a boy and a girl (pretty sure my teens wouldn't turn a hair): what you need to make clear is that you want sex to be positive for her, something that makes her feel good about herself and that this is something good sex does.

My dd has been greatly helped by CBT: it doesn't pretend to deal with the initial problem but is simply a series of techniques to help you not to get overwhelmed by negative thoughts.

rocket88 Fri 20-May-16 13:25:34

Guys (gals), just discussing it has helped, and some of your comments have been useful. There are so many points to address, but I have limited time at the moment, but, a couple/three of the more salient ones-

"your ideas on the way teenagers act are quite old-fashioned."
Perhaps, but I "came of age" in the sixties, the decade in which Larkin thought sex was invented. I know how girls even then were shamed by lads, without the likelihood of photographic evidence being published or shared or swapped. Even Polaroids were not common.

"Don't let yourself think of it as attention seeking if attention seeking..."
I didn't mean to seem to be trivialising it, but it is a cry for help, drawing attention to the problem. We've offered to help, or help her find help, but the offer is never accepted. When I have a problem, I attack it with vigour, or avoid the issue completely. For me there is no middle ground. Do what needs to be done, or if that's impossible, avoid the necessity. Go through the problem, or around it. She has attended CBT sessions, it's a matter of applying what she's learned.

"nothing inherently shameful about having sex with a boy and a girl"
Fully agree, if both parties are discreet, healthy and clean, in the right circumstances. (in my case there were few, possibly no circumstances under which, and locations in which, I would not have had sex with a willing girl, but I was never one to brag about it) She's now involved in activities at a club for fetishes, swinging and voyeurs, though, which introduces a whole new dynamic.

Having worked with youngsters in colleges, a prison, and a print works that printed "soft porn", I have to say that their ideas of "normal" are not mine. As far as consensual sex is concerned, I have few or no boundaries, but it's kept between the partners, not shared with, or broadcast to, all and sundry. That, I know from experience (of seeing other' relationships crumble), can lead to problems.

At one place I worked at, there was a girl, married to one of our workers, (her parents worked in the same factory) who regularly used to go out in the yard for sex with the younger lads, at the drop of a hat. Her reputation spread, and the lads were virtually queuing up for her "attentions" Anyone think that's within the bounds of normality/acceptability?

Yes, to those who are already thinking it, there is a dual standard operating here, I'm talking from the point of view of an unreconstructed male chauvinist, who was, in his youth, not terribly caring about girls, once he'd had his way. I do, though have my regrets about that. I found, though didn't really acknowledge, that many of the girls/women who are easiest to get into bed have insecurities and mental health vulnerabilities that men recognise in either their demeanour or conversation, and prey upon. I was driven by testosterone, and have little doubt lads are the same now.

I fear for our granddaughter.

Thanks to those who have contributed their thoughts.

corythatwas Fri 20-May-16 13:51:33

You do seem very focused on your own past and your own experiences.

"When I have a problem, I attack it with vigour, or avoid the issue completely. For me there is no middle ground."

"I was never one to brag about it"

"I'm talking from the point of view of an unreconstructed male chauvinist"

In the nicest possible way, this is not about you. It is about your granddaughter. It's about listening to her, giving her the support she needs to tackle problems in the way that is best for her.

cronetto Fri 20-May-16 14:23:49

As I read your post my first thought was exactly the same as Corygirl above. You are obsessing over sexual morals. What different does it make if some girl you knew in the past dropped her pants for the boys? She grew up in a different world, lived a different life, as did the girls you slept with.

You need to leave this behind. It doesn't matter if we/you think of it as moral or acceptable. That is not the problem you are facing, although perhaps you are subconsciously hiding behind that (and her future career) rather than facing the reality of dealing with the core of the problem - her self-esteem, her happiness and her future.

This is a young woman who is self-harming, falling apart, bouncing and rebounding of the different views, beliefs and judgements of the different people in her life and trying to find her own way.

For me, your job if you want it (and you fought a long hard and expensive battle to give her a better future) is to help her to find her own way. You too you must find your own way to support and love her.

Her sex life is her own business. The world has changed - noone is whispering about her or calling her a bike, as they might have done in the past. Until you get past this you won't be able to stop her from falling.

You fear for her because you love her, that's brilliant. But until you get past your revulsion for her behaviour you won't be able to help her. Bear in mind most of us are squeamish about our children's sexual activities. All the examples you give, we get it. we understand what you mean. And still we are saying, accept her, put aside your judgement and talk to her.

corythatwas Fri 20-May-16 14:37:51

What I have found most helpful when supporting my own dd is to try to keep my own voice subdued. Sometimes it is tempting to try to connect by reminiscensing or trying to relate what is being said to one's own experiences, but a lot of the time what they actually need you to do is to listen, to accept that their situation is unique, to just be there for them.

Not just talking about sex here, but the whole complicated business of living. My daughter is not me, how she reacts in a specific situation might not be how I would react, the support she needs might not be what I would want under similar circumstances- but this isn't me and it is not about me. It was her life that was in danger if I did not give the right support when she was at her lowest; my feelings were very far down the scale of priorities.

If I had spotted her hanging by her fingertips from the suspension bridge I would not have stopped to think "well, when I was a young woman...". A young woman who is overdosing or self harming (or even indulging in risky behaviour) is hanging by her fingertips from the suspension bridge. This is not the time for moralising or remembering your own youth: this is the time for stretching out a hand. And listening. Just listening.

rocket88 Fri 20-May-16 14:39:23

You make some good points. I don't want this to be about me, I never did, it is about her. My points were intended to be illustrative.

There is, however, another, younger child in the household (with developmental issues) who can be knocked off kilter by disharmony. As for me, I'm nearing the end of my useful life, so I have limited time to sort this out, while maintaining some sort of equilibrium, in the middle of A level exam time.

Something I have found out about this generation, is that they can possess knowledge, yet remain unable to apply it. A typical issue is that they may be familiar with a mathematical formula, yet remain unable, are perhaps unwilling even, to use it in a practical situation.

Thanks for your comment.

corythatwas Fri 20-May-16 14:52:10

I quite see your difficulties and it may be that you need external help. But try to keep that as practical as possible: "you need to live in X place because we are old/tied up by other responsibilities", "you need to access professional help because we do not have the experience needed". Don't make it about the faults of the present generation; whatever your final decision, concentrating on those thoughts will not help either you or your granddaughter.

Speaking as somebody in my 50's I have not found that everybody of that generation has magically practical abilities either in practical work or in life skills. Some people are clever, some people are silly, some people are adaptable and learn new skills and new ways of looking at life as long as they live, some people are very attuned to other people however different their backgrounds. Very much, I should say, like the current young generation (thinking of my own teenage son sitting by his grandmother's sick bed or supporting his sister with her MH issues).

Some people in each generation get stuck in their ways of thinking very early, others go on learning (my FIL, born in the 1910's, was a case of the latter, I know teenagers who will probably go on to illustrate the former).

The feeling I do get from your posts is that you are hiding behind formulae ("young people of today") because that seems to absolve you from doing or understanding something that is alien to you. Surely there could be compromises? If you cannot live with your granddaughter, could you find here somewhere to live whilst still listening to her.

cronetto Fri 20-May-16 15:02:46

I don't want to sound too critical, Rocket because I really, really want you to keep posting here, but...

your discourse is a bit bleak!

This fact won't be lost on her. If it's not sex, it's lost career prospects, mistakes made by those who should know better, etc. Of course, nobody is arguing that you're not right about it. It's not controversial that parenting is frustrating and it's very hard to watch them make mistakes.

Just simplify everything, spend some time in her company and don't be afraid or horrified, put those feelings aside and give her a space to talk. Tell her explicitly that although you know you have been horrified or whatever in the past, now you are not going to judge her, now you are going to listen.

It is very hard to listen and not chip in with views, but you mustn't, just say ooh, really in a neutral tone, nod gently.

In my case, which involved many of the characteristics of yours, including a very young and impressionable child, if I set a pair of scales with on one side the benefits of all the tellings off I gave him, and on the other, the benefits of the two or three major conversations we had, the times when I actually listened, when he actually ventured something important, which gave me the chance to say, OK, I can understand that. I can work with that. Every word of those conversations was gold dust.

corythatwas Fri 20-May-16 15:05:50

"In my case, which involved many of the characteristics of yours, including a very young and impressionable child, if I set a pair of scales with on one side the benefits of all the tellings off I gave him, and on the other, the benefits of the two or three major conversations we had, the times when I actually listened, when he actually ventured something important, which gave me the chance to say, OK, I can understand that. I can work with that. Every word of those conversations was gold dust."

This exactly sums up my life with dd. In retrospect, the value of my chipping in with my experiences seems to weigh so very little when weighed against the times when I have been able to provide her with a safe space to articulate her own thoughts without fear of being judged. Perhaps it was all about learning to nod gently (I have got very good at that [win])

titchy Fri 20-May-16 17:46:41

You really need to get over your preconception about teenagers of today.

You may have been a nasty piece of work when you were a young man. Doesn't mean all young men nowadays are the same - they're not.

And when she came home distraught about a couple of sexual encounters she'd had you offered no sympathy - I find that abhorrent really.

She needs you desperately, and you judge, judge and judge some more. Then compare her to you. And effectively tell her she's ruining her life because she isn't focused on her exams.

I hope your wife has more understanding and empathy.

titchy Fri 20-May-16 17:49:02

And how bad is the cutting really? You imply it's superficial attention seeking nonsense. In which case the scars will be healed in a matter of weeks and no one will know. But then you talk about jobs she'll now never be able to access confused

Incidentally I am not aware of any job that requires forearms to be unblemished.

corythatwas Fri 20-May-16 18:00:33

Agree that the job thing is a total red herring. Most likely scars won't show- and there is such a thing as foundation cream.

My dd scars very easily from all sorts of things (genetic condition), but when she is made up to go to work she looks like she has perfect skin.

One thing I found re dd was that it was very easy to focus our fears and frustration on minor things like this: if you do x you will never be able to achieve y, often before we even knew whether this was true or not, or indeed whether dd would ever want to do y. It never helped her to get better in any way, the only thing it achieved was to make her feel more of a failure in the short term.

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