Am I being too sensitive about the put-downs and insults my daughter and her boyfriend toss back and forth at each other? She acts like it's no big deal, but I'm alarmed and don't consider this to be healthy behavior. What do you think?
We don't think you're being too sensitive. As a matter of fact, we'd suggest that your feelings are right on target. It's been our observation that some teens, deprived of positive role models who can show them how to treat members of the opposite sex, are in serious need of some basic training in this area. As a caring parent, you're in an excellent position to counter this negative trend.
There has been a lot of discussion recently about "sexual respect," but there's an important sense in which much of this talk misses the mark. As we see it, "sexual respect" between husbands and wives, engaged couples, or even dating partners has to be rooted in something more fundamental – namely, basic human respect. The more effective approach is to foster decency and consideration for other people's feelings in all kinds of relationships. So-called "sexual respect" will follow as a natural consequence.
Perhaps you need to begin by encouraging your daughter to develop a stronger sense of self-respect. As a person of worth – a young woman created in the Image of God – she does herself a disservice if she allows her boyfriend (or anyone else, for that matter) to insult her. When she tolerates nasty put-downs by laughing them off, she's sending a signal that she considers this kind of behavior acceptable. She may think that this is "no big deal," but how would she react if the jokes were suddenly to turn mean or cruel? What would happen if the verbal disrespect were to escalate into physical or sexual abuse? As an object lesson, you might ask your daughter if she's seen other teens put up with a little verbal abuse only to endure more serious jibes and emotional hurt later on. Chances are she'll know exactly what you're talking about. Our schools are full of this kind of thing.
If your daughter is the kind of person who has trouble setting appropriate boundaries in personal relationships, she may find it helpful to take a look at a book called Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. In the meantime, if either of you would like to discuss this matter at greater length with a member of our staff, we hope you'll feel free to call Focus on the Family's Counseling department.