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Next time your dad makes an unreasonable demand or unfair criticism, understand that he is anxious for you.


Q Sometimes I just want to run away to someplace where no one knows me. I am 17 years old, a good student with good friends. I get along well with my mother, but my father is always on my case. For instance, he won’t let me stay overnight at my friends’ houses even when their parents are home. He tells me I am a flirt and that I dress “like a slut,” but I don’t! My mom says my dad means well and I need to listen to him. What can I do?

A Running away from one’s problems usually creates even bigger ones—so running solves nothing. But your desire to run because of your dad’s over-protectiveness and hurtful comments is understandable.

It is not unusual for fathers and mothers to become anxious for their maturing children, wanting to spare them the heartbreak they themselves might have experienced as teens. The more “dumb” the mistakes made by parents, the more fearful the control they exercise sometimes, in the hope that their children will be spared the consequences they themselves suffered because of their own foolishness.

Next time your dad makes an unreasonable demand or unfair criticism, understand that he is anxious for you. Although that does not excuse his use of abusive labels, it can help you avoid the trap of becoming defensive. Instead of responding to his criticism by defending yourself, ask him what it was like for him when he was 17. Did he have a lot of rules to follow? Were they the same, and did he think they were fair? Did he obey them?

By now you have probably discovered that engaging in a ping-pong match of argument leads to nothing but anger and hurt feelings. As you work at better understanding your dad’s worries, reassure him that you don’t intend to make the same mistakes. And thank him for the heads-up.

—Judy Cook is a family therapist and a member of Meadowlands Fellowship CRC in Ancaster, Ontario.

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