Dilemmas: My daughter is watching horror videos

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The Independent Culture
Mark is amicably divorced from his wife, but was shocked when his 14-year-old daughter told him in confidence that she'd seen lots of adult-rated horror films at friends' houses. Should he tell her mother, who would stop her seeing her friends? If he did, he'd betray his daughter's trust


Oh dear, what awful messes parents get into when they've been over-chummy with their children. Because it does sound to me as if Mark's been doing what a lot of absent parents do, which is to relinquish his role of father and become, instead, an over-indulgent kind of older brother. Perhaps, despite being amicably divorced, he occasionally goes along with his daughter when she moans about her mother's strictness, and says that she can be a bit of a tyrant. Then, when his daughter talks back to him in the same language, he finds he's between a rock and a hard place. Should he be a giggling school friend, or a disapproving dad?

Personally, I think he should have stepped into a dad role the very moment she told him.

"I find this very worrying," he should have said, going pale. "We should go for a McDonald's and discuss it. You're far, far too young to see these films, and I'm appalled you're seeing them."

But it's not too late. There's always next time. If possible, he should see a couple of these films and find out what they're really like; if he still feels horrified, he could tell her he saw them. Then he might ask her why she told him, when it was obvious that he would disapprove. "You must remember that even though we often behave as if we're just friends, I'm still your dad," he should say. "Obviously I can't tell your mother what you've told me, because you've told me in confidence, but we are still a family even though we're apart, and if I were living at home I think you probably wouldn't have told me. First, tell me why you told me, when you must have known my reaction."

It could be that the child's getting in too deep with her horror movies. It could be that she wants someone to tell her not to watch them, because she wakes up at night scared rigid and bathed in sweat by the memories of monsters, but she doesn't want to tell her mum because she knows her mum will stop her seeing her friends. It could be that she told him because she's longing for a "daddish" reaction from Mark, rather than that of a complicit pal. Or it could be that it was a way of telling him that she's more grown-up than he thinks, and that he must stop treating her as a child. If she can't come up with an answer as to why she told him, he could put these suggestions to her.

Now, he can't stop her from seeing these movies, in fact. But he could say he'd much prefer it if she didn't watch them. That means that if she wants an out, she can say to her friends that her dad got really angry with her when she told him, and she promised not see any more, and she can't break a promise (even though Mark should never ask her to make one). Or if she wants to go on seeing them, she can simply continue, as thousands and thousands of underage teenagers do, remembering to keep her mouth shut in future.

Either way, Mark has treated the girl as an adult, put his case and asked for hers, and he hasn't broken her trust. She'll respect him for being honest with her.

And when she gets pregnant at 15 - God forbid - he'll be the first person she'll come running to.


Try to meet her friends

Mark should ask himself why his daughter told him about these videos. She obviously knows she should not be watching them, otherwise she would not wish him to keep it secret from her mother.

If he is so sure that his ex-wife would stop her daughter seeing these girls, why is he not concerned about them?

Respect her confidence by all means, but Mark must be a responsible parent. What else do these friends do about which he should be anxious? When are they watching these videos? Who is obtaining them, and from where?

Why not suggest meeting the friends? Perhaps Mark could take them all to a film. He would then be in a better position to talk to his daughter about them. Such an outing might also give him the opportunity to meet their parents and perhaps even to bring up the subject of the unsuitable videos.

When Mark has done this, then, if he is still worried, and, having discussed it with his daughter, he should consider talking to his ex-wife.


Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire

The girl sounds normal

Poor Mark. If his daughter is looking forward to more of the same, perhaps 50 years ago she'd have been reading Edgar Allen Poe or MR James. I nearly died, aged seven, when I saw Snow White's wicked witch at the movies, but 30 years later my daughter's favourite old English fairy tale was Mr Fox, aka Bluebeard. When Mr Fox, not knowing his fiance is hiding behind the sofa, drags a shrieking female up the stairs, lopping extremities off her on the way, her hand falling next to the bride-to-be behind the sofa caused great joy. My daughter has grown up completely normal but I couldn't see Silence of the Lambs if you paid me. It just depends on the personality of the child. Mark's daughter sounds fine.


Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys

Next Week's Dilemma

Dear Virginia, I keep thinking about the past, and feeling so sad about it. My parents divorced when I was 10, and I lived with my mother. She got married again to a man I didn't like, so I went to live with my father, seeing my mother every weekend. I loved him and I think he loved me, but he was not physically affectionate (nor was my mother), and I feel the lack of cuddles and warmth has to do with how I feel now.

Neither of my parents ever said they loved me. I have two grown-up children and a loving husband, but I still think about the past. My husband says I've just got to get on with life, but of course that's easy to say.

Yours sincerely, Cheryl