Photo by MIO ITO on Unsplash
Photo by MIO ITO on Unsplash

Disciplining Through Understanding


We have caught our 13-year-old daughter wearing clothing that is entirely inappropriate, especially for her age. When she leaves home, she looks fine so evidently she is changing after she leaves. What can I do?


There are several issues here and the first question is which issue do you focus on?  Do you focus on her dishonesty, disobedience, deceit and/or deception?  Each one needs to be addressed at some point and there needs to be consequences but where do you begin?  If you try to hit all of them in one conversation she’s probably going to feel attacked, shut down and it’s not going to be a very profitable interaction.

The best first step in dealing with any relational problem is to, in light of the teachings of Proverbs, choose understanding.  You and your spouse need to prayerfully consider what is the most important issue here, when might be the most profitable time to address it with her, and what are some of the things you need and want to understand about what’s going on with your daughter to more effectively deal with these issues.

Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page as to how you can confront your precious daughter and deal with the problem in ways that will most likely lead to the helpful resolution of the problem AND actually increase the safety trust in your relationship?  She needs to know that while she has betrayed your trust she is still loved and precious in your sight.

It sounds like your main concern is her inappropriate dress.  If that’s where you choose to start you might ask what is behind her feeling like she needs to dress the way she does?  Is it to be accepted?  To be included?  To be valued?  To get the attention of boys?  Is she aware of the message that sleazy dressing sends to guys?  Does that help her feel better about herself and respect herself more?

Have you spent some quality time with her talking about male and female differences? Not just in terms of anatomy but in the whole area of male/female sexuality, developmental differences, hormonal differences, the role of visual stimulation for guys etc.?  If not, now’s probably a good time for those talks.

A few years ago, a couple I know had several conversations with their daughter over the issue that if the only way she can get a boy’s attention is by dressing like all she has to offer is her body then what kind of guy should she expect to take an interest in her, what did she think they’d want with her and how long did she think they would be interested in her?  They asked her to make a list of appropriate and inappropriate clothing and then write out a list of the pros and cons of each one.

This couple went in prayerfully prepared, they listened a lot, they asked a lot of great questions, they involved their daughter in the process and they were able to impact her values, clarify her perspective and increase the trust in the relationship.

Gary J. Oliver, ThM, PhD
Executive Director at Center for Healthy Relationships | + posts

Dr. Oliver is the Executive Director of The Center for Healthy Relationships, and professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University.  He has authored over 20 books and more than 350 professional and popular articles.  Dr. Oliver has over 40 years’ experience as a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage  & Family Therapist and Spiritual Director.  He leads seminars & workshops both nationally and internationally on a variety of counseling-related issues, healthy relationships as well as Emotional & Relational Intelligence (ERI).

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