Hi Rene,

My daughter Shay is 16 years old and – I’ve just discovered – has a bad reputation at her school.

Shay used to be such a good girl, but over the last couple of years she’s been acting out – hanging with boys older than her, dressing sexier, acting rebellious. I chalked it up to teenage hormones but a friend recently told me that Shay has a bad rep at her school. The kids say she sleeps around and is easy – and Shay actually seems to encourage the rumors.

We live in a small town and I’m worried how Shay’s behavior will reflect on her if she stays in the area – and also on us as parents. We also have two other (younger) daughters – and worry for them too.

What do I do now Rene? How can I turn back the clock and stop the rumors?


Rachel, North Dakota

Dear Rachel,

Let me be polite and first thank you for writing. Now I have to get tough. There are several things in your letter that frankly, are like nails on a chalkboard for me. I’ll go over those and then give you my suggestions as to where to go from here:

  • “I’ve just discovered has a bad reputation at school”. Reputation and rumors both start with the letter R and, as we have seen at least among this age group, takes very little real substantive proof to give them legs. You say a friend recently told you that Shay has a bad rep at her school. I’m curious as to how that conversation went down. Did she just, out of the blue, say, “you know your kid is developing a reputation as being easy”? Why would she do that? Years ago, my mother told me you have to always consider the source in everything you hear. What was in this for your friend that she felt compelled to tell you this? How does she know? Is she hearing from her daughter or son at school? What do they know? Do they even like Shay or are they part of the ever-churning rumor mill?
  • “We live in a small town and I’m worried how Shay’s behavior will reflect on her if she stays in the area – and also on us as parents.” “How can I turn back the clock and stop the rumors?” Now this is the part of your letter that really gets my goat. Who CARES what people outside of your home think about Shay or you or the job you are doing as parents? Small town or no small town, people are going to talk so let them. It is a waste of time and energy to try to get them to change the way they think or what they say. Enough with the competitive parenting (you know where I stand on that)! I think you need to take a hard look at yourself and try to determine why your own social standing and acceptance by the townsfolk is so important to you.

Two points I need to make in closing. I do think there is real danger here for Shay and it has nothing to do with a scarred reputation. You need to talk to her and fast. You need to find out of she is having sex and if she is, that she knows how to protect herself. Impress upon her that this is unacceptable behavior based on your moral code as a family (that has nothing to do with what outsiders think) and you want her to stop.

And speaking of topping, you say she’s 16 and falling in with a bad crowd and dressing sexier. Uh, well who’s buying her clothes? Who’s letting her hang out with these friends? If she is living at home, you still have some control over what she wears and who she hangs with and when. So do it! Did it ever occur to you that Shay might know how important (though misguided) maintaining a so-called good rep and social standing is to you that she is going out of her way to act out in order to get attention from you? If it hasn’t you’re going to have to deal with your own self-absorbed issues. Sorry to be so blunt but that’s what it looks like from here.

This is a critical time for you. How about taking all that energy you spend worrying about what people (who ultimately do not matter) think or say and refocusing it on your kid? I’m willing to bet your odds for success will be much greater if you handle it that way.

Good luck mommy.


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Rene Syler is a wife, mother, breast cancer advocate and television personality whose burning desire to tell the truth about modern motherhood led her to create When not spending time with her family or burning something for dinner, Rene travels the country as host of Sweet Retreats on The Live Well Network and Exhale on Aspire.


  1. M.E. Johnson

    November 12, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    You are right on the money! Again!
    Someone I knew at university (a small town also, doncha know) was pretty ‘wild and crazy’. She is now an esteemed professor at a highly-rated college.

  2. Deon Smith

    November 12, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    Where is the FATHER? This girl needs and older/RESPONSIBLE male figure to resume a fatherly/big brotherly role. When these behaviors arise it is usually because she is seeking attention or there is a LACK of “how” to get attention from males. Fathers/brothers are always available to coax girls to decipher male lingo (MALE BULLS–T) and are also a source of security and protection as well.

  3. Rene Syler

    November 12, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    GREAT point! thanks Deon

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  5. Jane Doe

    October 30, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    Of course it matters to a parent what others outside of the house think (in regards to reputation). At that age and onward, perception can be more powerful than reality. The girl will need others outside the family as references and supporters in applying for college, clubs, jobs, etc. And today, that wild and crazy picture taken at 16 could come back and haunt you and derail a dream later in life. Other parents willing to rally around a kid rather than rumor about her.

  6. Rene Syler

    October 30, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    @Jane Doe: yes that’s true. But the question is what’s the best use of the mother’s energy? Running around worrying about trying the change the opinion of a bunch of people really won’t matter down the line? Or concentrate on her daughter, an investment that WILL pay off in the long run? This letter was not about the daughter as much as it was about how the daughter’s actions were reflecting on the mother, something I find thoroughly and completely distasteful. Thx for weighing in.

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