A short story and a short moral question

A friend of mine from many years ago was in serious adolescent turmoil. Somewhere in high school this smart, creative young woman just got lost. As part of loosing her direction, she lost her functional relationship with her parents.

She had her first boyfriend. He was a jerk. They started drinking together. He figured out when her period was, and then when she would be ovulating. He premeditated having drunk, unprotected sex with her when she was most fertile, so she would get pregnant and stay with him. She got pregnant. Because she didn’t have a relationship with her parents, she was sure they would disown her if they found out about her accidental pregnancy.

She had an abortion.

At least partially because abortion was so counter to her deeply held spiritual beliefs, she spiraled out of control even more. It took her many years to find her path again.

I wonder if her parents ever found out. I wonder if her parents would have reacted as strongly, as judgmentally, as she feared they would. I wonder if she had been able to tell her parents, and if they had embraced her in her pain, and supported her path, if she would have been in as much pain, wandering, for so long.

As a parent, here is the question you have to ask yourself:
Is it more important to me that I tell my teenager how strongly I disapprove of her or his actions irrespective of the strain it puts on our relationship, or is it more important to me to maintain a strong relationship, so that she or he will come to me in times of great turmoil?

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. Came across your blog by accident, so forgive the intrusion…

    My view on this subject is simply, honesty right from the beginning, parent to child, instills honesty in return. This is not to be confused with “my way or the highway” type of honesty, but instead implies “conversation and respect.”

    It seems to me that the best functioning families strive for the latter in all areas of their family life and it gives all sorts of benefits in return: trust, a lack of fear and rejection, personal confidential to deal with the world, etc. etc. etc.

    So my answer to your question is, it is more important to maintain a strong relation–one that has a basis in honesty and trust and respect.

  2. Well said, Karen. Thank you.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Guillermo. I’m delighted that you’ve joined the conversation. I hope that you come back again!

    And absolutely, Alice. You’re a wonderful person.

  4. Karen I like the straight forward manner in which you present your thoughts and ideas. I think your blog is an important contribution to us a parents and the teenagers moving through this stage of their life. I know I’m learning from you as you write. Thank you for your contribution of time and trust.

  5. Karen, I don’t think your question is fairly an either/or situation. I think it can be that case that one keeps a good relationship with their teenager, while at the same time letting that teenager know that you, as a parent, strongly disapproves of their actions / behaviors.

    The question brings to mind the classic Chinese tale, “Old Sai loses a horse.”

    “A man who lived on the northern frontier of China was skilled in interpreting events. One day for no reason, his horse ran away to the nomads across the border. Everyone tried to console him, but his father said, “What makes you so sure this isn’t a blessing?” Some months later his horse returned, bringing a splendid nomad stallion. Everyone congratulated him, but his father said, “What makes you so sure this isn’t a disaster?” Their household was richer by a fine horse, which the son loved to ride. One day he fell and broke his hip. Everyone tried to console him, but his father said, “What makes you so sure this isn’t a blessing?”

    A year later the nomads came in force across the border, and every able-bodied man took his bow and went into battle. The Chinese frontiersmen lost nine of every ten men. Only because the son was lame did father and son survive to take care of each other. Truly, blessing turns to disaster, and disaster to blessing: the changes have no end, nor can the mystery be fathomed.”

    So, your short story implies good and bad (bad boyfriend, bad parents, bad situation of pregnancy, bad situation of abortion, cause/effect relationship between the above and her spiralling out of control.

    i think we too often blame, instead of simply observing and gathering information. (Certainly guilty of that myself many times over!!!)

    I also really agree with Tom, that this blog is a very important contribution. Thank you for doing this.

  6. Hi Ruth,

    Of course it is always hard to gainsay the eventual road any given event will take you down. However, that does not reduce the importance of working to keep a relationship with your teenager. I do think it is a parent’s responsibility to keep those lines of communication open.

    There are, of course, times when teenagers may act so outrageously that parents are forced to draw some lines around their own lives. Extreme drug use, other illegal activities, physical abuse, these and others are all situations in which a parent may be forced to make choices they never thought they would (calling the police on their child, refusing to provide the child shelter or food, etc.).

    But these are extreme cases, and are very distantly removed from the vast majority of parent/teen relationships. These situations also have very little to do with the normal sexual exploration that all adolescents do experience. And I have yet to see a parent/teen relationship where I thought that it was beneficial for anyone involved for the parent to chase their child away through extreme judgment, regardless of what negative choices the teenager was making.

  7. Karen, my point here is simply that the question was weighted; it had an obvious answer. What parent could say, “Its more important to disapprove strongly, no matter how it strains the relationship!”

    Do you think any parent tries to strain their relationship with their child? I suppose its possible, but again, that would be outside the “normal” range of parent/teen relationships.

    So, if a question has only one answer, its really not a question. But, it is very important for parents to be reminded how important the relationship is! It is very important to keep that first and foremost, so that the lines of communication will be open in times of stress and turmoil.


  8. I am glad, Ruth, that my question has a clear and obvious answer for you. (And certainly the one I think is the appropriate one.) It doesn’t for all parents.

    There are parents who feel very strongly about something their teenagers are doing (or not doing), and just forget that by talking constantly about that point, they loose their relationship with their teenager. (As would anyone who talked constantly to an adult about something they were doing wrong.) By loosing their relationship, parents loose their influence.

    I appreciate that my question seems leading and obvious to you. I wish it did for everyone!

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