The most sound, convincing, and well-developed answer to this question is given by psychologist Terri Apter.
They look grown-up. Sometimes these daughters of ours even act grown-up. But the fact remains, they are not grown up; nor have they made the transition from irresponsibility to responsibility; nor are they capable of sound thinking during most of adolescence.
The problem is, they really are not capable of thinking the way they did as preadolescents. Back then, you could put terror into their hearts by describing an eminent and certain consequence of their actions. The image of a truck whizzing by and squashing a bug in the road could be translated into what would undoubtedly happen to them if they ran blindsighted out into the street.
Adolescence is not necessarily a time when these girls of ours become suddenly reckless or act without thinking, nor is it a time when they consciously set out to defy us and ruin our lives and theirs. They know, for instance, that intercourse can lead to pregnancy and that their parents would kill them if they came home and announced that a baby was growing inside of them.
So what happens in between stating this to a girlfriend, hopping into bed with a boyfriend, and then singing the baby blues months later?
Apter says it has to do with the fact that adolescent girls, more so than boys, develop a split between their ability to reason and their ability to predict the outcome of behavior. Therefore, your adolescent daughter may think she is acting safely. The catch is she does not have access to the cognitive skills that enable her to assess the probability of risk or danger.
What Are the Important Issues to Confront?
Often it is hard to think clearly and determine whether or not something is worth confronting your daughter with when you are in the middle of a questionable situation. To help you decide, Cohen-Sandler and Silver, authors of "I'm not mad, I just hate you!" suggest you consider a checklist of the things that should always be attended to promptly.
Matters you shouldn't let slide by include…
- Questions of safety.
- Circumstances involving lack of school achievement.
- Practices that compromise character.
- Situations that take advantage of you and other family members.
- Situations involving sexual activity.