Kid doing graffiti with new boyfriend

My husband and I have an 18 year old who has been toying with edgier boys than her very clean-cut boyfriend of a couple years, whom she broke up with recently.  She does continue to tell me things, and I think we do enjoy open and honest communication.  Recently, she casually told me, framing it as "no big deal" that her new boyfriend engages in graffiti, and that she is experimenting with creating her own tag.  I started by telling her that defacement of public property is illegal, dangerous and disrespectful of her city, which she loves.  She shut me down, but we continued to  discuss it with her until she agreed not to do it, or go along while it's being done.  This boy wants to come over late, making me suspicious that he might take her out "tagging."  I already caught him once in the house in the middle of the night.  The boy in question is unemployed and not in school.  I'm having trouble getting them to hew to some basic rules about how often he can come over, and my husband and I are both afraid to confront him directly, though my daughter has made him aware that there are rules.  The question is, should we confront him about the graffiti (my daughter will likely bolt and can't support herself yet) and isn't it reasonable to set a limit on his time spent in my home?

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Hi there!

I don't think I have a ton of solutions for you but wanted to mention some graffiti specific stuff.

I grew up in love with hiphop culture of which--you may know--there are four "elements":

  • DJing
  • MCing (Rapping)
  • BBoying (Breakdancing)
  • Graffiti

I played around with all four. As a kid with a guilty conscience and generally law abiding, I never did any public tagging, but did get pretty heavily into doing pieces on paper, playing with tags, on various media. I know that it's tempting to see graffiti as a kind of counter cultural, illicit activity--and often it is. You can have conversations with your daughter about the legality of it all, but maybe also share with her that you understand and appreciate its value as an art form (if, in fact, you do). This sets a common framework that you both agree on its artistic value (some of the skill required to get certain effects with a spray can is really impressive). Then your discussion becomes about your concern with her getting into trouble.

You can go even further to show your support for the art form itself. Sign her up for a class at First Amendment. They teach a variety of classes on graffiti both from a historical and practical perspective. Maybe this is even something you could do together. (

I guess my point here is that it can be tempting to get into a battle with a rebellious teen. And finding ways that you can find common ground helps to keep dialogue open and allows you to continue to do the parenting part as well. My son is only 14 months, so you can take a lot of the parenting stuff I have to offer with a grain of salt. I did, however, want to point out some context and resources for you to engage with your daughter if she is serious about graffiti as a creative outlet.

Good luck!

Yeahhhhh, the kids are going to see each other whether it's in your house or elsewhere, though of course you can set rules on how often and when he can stay over. The graffiti I'm less sure about. And of course forbidding her from seeing him most often backfires. I'd just suggest continued communication, as often as she allows it. Best of luck. 

This seems more like a boyfriend problem than a graffiti problem. If I were you I would drop the graffiti issue and not bring it up again, and instead focus on the relationship. As for the relationship, there is not a lot you can do about an 18-year-old's choice in the boyfriend department. I know, because I've raised two teenagers. Criticizing the boyfriend is going to backfire (and criticizing the graffiti is the same as criticizing the boyfriend.)  She is considered an adult now.  

Is she still in high school?  If so, I think it is reasonable to have rules about how often the BF comes over and how late he stays. But otherwise, you are entering a new territory where you have an adult living at your house who really is entitled to her own ideas about who she sees, and when and how often. Not to say you can't have house rules - you can and you should.  But the rules should be more like roommate rules than the parent-child rules of high school, in my opinion.  If she were away at college now instead of at home, she would be doing as she pleases.

It sounds like your daughter is being responsible in terms of explaining the rules to the boyfriend.  I think you should have a calm discussion with her about revising the house rules now that she is 18. When my kids were this age, my rules were that they needed to let me know if they were going to be out past midnight so I wouldn't worry.  I did not have any rules about who could come over or how often or for how long, but I was not comfortable letting their girlfriends sleep over and I told them that and they honored that. However I had to relax this rule later, when they brought the GF home from college, and as they entered their 20's.

The years of 18 to 21 are tricky if they are living at home. In some sense you have to wing it and hope for the best. You are right about keeping the communication channels open. That's the most important thing. Your daughter sounds like a good kid and now you have to let her make adult-level decisions for herself, even when you think they are bad decisions. That's how they learn and grow into responsible adults!

Good luck!