Parenting Dilemmas: Kenneth

Becoming a Parent Overnight

Kenneth received custody of his 13-year-old daughter two years ago and now faces the challenge of raising her as a single parent.  


"We are constantly fighting about whether or not she's old enough to have a boyfriend, wear makeup, have her own cell phone or go to the mall without parental supervision," he shares. "She's always saying, ‘I need this. I need that.' She thinks money grows on trees."


Kenneth turns to Dr. Phil for help. "This teenager thing is new to her, and it's certainly new to me," he says. "I want to do what's right, but I am completely clueless."


Dr. Phil points out that Kenneth is raising his daughter without a mother in her life and says, "You've come in late in the game."

"I never knew about her until she was 8 years old," Kenneth says. "The last three years she spent with her uncle. He had custody. She had been sent back to be with her mother, and the grandfather called

me on September 16 at 5:00 p.m. and said, ‘Do you want your daughter?' I said yes." He picked her up that day, and she's been with him ever since.

"You're decision, to start out, was to really be her friend so you could bond with her, right?" Dr. Phil asks.

"We didn't know each other, and I didn't want to be hard because I didn't want her to hate me," he says. "If she wanted something, I got it. I didn't have the money all the time. I sacrificed for myself." Kenneth says that his daughter started taking advantage of it. "She knew that she had me," he says.

"Now, as a parent, you've got to redefine the relationship," Dr. Phil says. "Kids don't come with an owner's manual or an operating manual, and there's no set time that you can say, ‘Alright, you can start wearing makeup.'"

Dr. Phil turns to Dr. Dan Siegel, a Dr. Phil advisory board member who has a 13-year-old daughter, and asks him, "How do you make the decision, and w

hat do you advise about when to wear makeup, when to start dating, when to let them have a cell phone?"

"There are no absolute answers," Dr. Siegel says. "You've got to look inside yourself and see what feels right, not just what you're pushed into doing." He says that his daughter told him that girls start wearing makeup at 13. "I think it's all a matter of what it means," he says. "If she's just doing it to allow herself to present herself to her friends in a nice way and that feels good to you, the consensus is " I think among lots of people " that's fine. But if she's making herself up to look like she's going out for Halloween, that's a whole different thing."

"You've got to look at the motive behind it," Dr. Phil add
s. "If it's a fashion statement, that's one thing. If it is to attract boys, to look older, to look more mature, to become a magnet, then, all of a sudden, you've got to say, ‘She's obviously not ready to do that,' because you're going to create that problem."

"One thing to realize about adolescence is that from around 11 or 12 all the way into the early 20s, the child's brain is changing so much that there's all sorts of things, especially at this age, that they may do without that much reasoning," Dr. Siegel says. In regards to the dating issue, he says, "Sometimes, at this age especially, they're not really ready to engage with boys in a way that they can think clearly."

"Do you think she's wanting to do makeup for the right reasons, or is she wanting to look older than she is to attract more mature guys?" Dr. Phil asks Kenneth.

"She wants to do it because her friends do it," he says, noting that at his daughter's 11th birthday party, one of the girls had a face full of makeup, bleach-blond hair and a mini-skirt. He doesn't want his daughter to present herself in that manner.

Dr. Phil tells Kenneth that subtle makeup may not necessarily be a red flag for trouble. "At 13, she isn't even almost close [to being ready to date], particularly given her history and background," he says, reiterating that a teenager's brain isn't finished growing. "You've got to be that person who sees around corners for her, because she cannot predict the consequences of her actions," he says.


Dr. Siegel adds, "What you need to do is kind of have other adults around, a support group of other adults who have teenage girls, or even guys, where you can actually talk to them."

Answering another question Kenneth has, Dr. Phil shares that he approves of a child having a cell phone, as long as they use it within reason. "You've got to control it, and you've got to make sure that they're just not spending hours and hours talking to boys," he cautions. "I like it for a number of reasons. I can always reach out and get my kids, and they knew if that cell phone rang, they had better answer it. I liked being able to find them wherever they were, and I liked them being able to push a button and get to me instantly if they were in trouble."