In the Christian cultural discussion of men’s leadership, I think there is sometimes too little emphasis on the father-daughter relationship, and too little willingness to enter the battle for their hearts on their turf. Yes, it’s important for sons to see dad as a clearly visible mentor and leader. But our relationship with our daughters needs a lot more care and maintenance than most dads probably suspect. Let’s put it this way: A dad can’t really give his daughter away at her wedding if her heart wasn’t his to give in the first place.
The worst thing a father can do is cede the battleground of his daughter’s heart to the pop-culture. Online influences will pull at her, encouraging unhealthy relationships and emotions, promoting exactly the wrong advice to deal with the confusing whirl of emotions on her path from little girl to young woman. I’ve seen so many fathers who have given up trying to talk to their girls for reasons ranging from hostile attitudes to simply not being able to relate to each other. All the more reason not to give up the quest to capture their hearts.
Failure is not an option. Your daughter’s happiness in a life-long marriage may very well be at stake, because remember, her relationship with you is going to heavily influence her choice of a husband and how she relates to him. She’ll either see your example and run toward that type of character in a mate, or despise you—fairly or unfairly—and run the opposite way.
Don’t waste these years. Do a full court press to win her heart, or win it back if you feel like you’ve lost it. It can be done, and although it will be painful, it will be worth it. Show humility and flexibility. Exert your parental authority when needed, but wear her down and win her over with kindness, compassion and understanding. And by all means, if she’s old enough to be online to any degree, engage with her there as much as you can. Being a positive influence online is as important as it is in the home when face to face at the dinner table.
In the hyper-connected world we all live in now, ceding technology to the enemy is to lay down on the battlefield and accept defeat. Technology is both a wonderful thing when used as a tool for building healthy relationships, and an incredibly dangerous tool to enable people to disengage from one another on a personal level. As one who makes a living online, I know firsthand that the Internet (and by extension, mobile communications and social networking in general) is fraught with danger, and disaster lurks around every corner online. Whatever limits you choose to set for your teens, I believe it is important not to step away from the battlefield of their heart and let the social influences of either shallow friends or outright strangers steal them away.
While it’s important for fathers to set clear boundaries online, we shouldn’t be afraid to enter the battlefield of online communication on their terms. My wife and I are not ones to give our teens cell phones until they absolutely need it, and even then, we have plenty of rules and accountability commensurate with the level of maturity and trust each one displays. There is no “16 gets you a smart phone” or any rule like that. Responsibility is doled out based purely on the trust level of the relationship, and that’s an important life lesson for them.
One they have a phone, however, I believe it’s important to take full advantage of it as a tool to connect with them in a medium they are naturally drawn to. If you’ve allowed them to have a social network account (a decision that is going to vary based on the level of trust you’ve built up), then engage with them on it. Become a wizard at texting and touching base with them throughout your week. Send them verses or positive messages (hint: email is so last year). Tell them how beautiful they are. Like their photos on Instragram.
There is a fine line between stalking and micro-managing your girl’s social life on one hand, and building your online connection with them on the other, and that line isn’t going to be drawn at the same place for every father/daughter relationship. You may even decide to give them some online “space” so they have some level of privacy. But keep in mind that hearing from dad may not be as meaningless or undesirable to them as they let on at first.
If this is your first attempt to engage with them (or even if it’s not), there may be some awkwardness for awhile, and a need to talk things through and reach some understandings about your intentions. They need to be able to trust you with their heart, and that means being trustworthy and respectful of their feelings, even when you think your rational analysis of their feelings is more accurate. Remember that deep in the heart of every daughter is a little girl who wants to be honored and cherished by her daddy, and online mediums can be a good tool when face to face conversations are more difficult. Don’t let online communication be a substitute for face to face fellowship, but by all means, let use it as an ice-breaker in your effort to capture their hearts.