From the moment I knew I was having a girl, dating was something I worried about. I had all kinds of questions. What is the appropriate age to begin dating? How young is too young to express an interest in boys? What if she gets pregnant as a teenager? What if she makes the same mistakes I did ? The only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to handle to subject of dating differently than how it was done with me.
As parents, we cannot let external groups take the lead role in our teen’s sexual education. Although it can get awkward, we have to create a judgment and reprimand-free zone for our girls to talk to us about the changes in their bodies, feelings and desires. If we have age appropriate conversations with our girls early on, it will make it easier to communicate with them when the teenage dating phase begins.
If you are raising a fatherless daughter, tackling dating issues can be even more overwhelming without a man there to give her love and perspective. Many of us know firsthand the impact so-called daddy issues can have on the female psyche when it comes to dating choices, but even if your daughter has a male presence in her life, it is not guaranteed to make dating an any easier. Our daughter need more than platitudes like you’re worth waiting for and you’re the prize to avoid some of the pitfalls teenage girls are falling into. They need guidelines and information.
Here are a few guiding principles moms can consider when trying to handle the teenage dating phase in a healthy and balanced way.
Communicate With Your Daughter
I know this seems like a no-brainer, but anyone raising a teen knows that they can get really secretive at this age. Some moms are lucky enough to have an open relationship with their daughter, but others may find it impossible to get their teen to open up. Don’t let her unwillingness to talk keep you from engaging her. One thing I’ve found to be really helpful is to let my daughter know she’s reached an age where I am more concerned with her ability to make good choices than I am with trying to discipline or control her. Now that she is a teen, she has to practice good judgment because my punishment will soon be the least of her worries. Let your girl know you have expectations, but your primary concern is her safety, not putting her on punishment. Most importantly, if she won’t talk to you, make sure she has someone she can talk to who will reiterate a lot of the same messages you’re trying to send.
Establish an Acceptable Dating Age
Determining an acceptable dating age is not an easy thing to do. I think this all depends on the maturity level, developmental age and personality of your daughter. Some parents may allow group outings with boys at age 12, or talking on the phone until 8 p.m. at age 13, while others may not permit any interaction with the opposite sex until age 16 or until after high school graduation. While the objective is to help her preserve her innocence for as long as I can, I don’t want to handicap her by limiting her interaction with the opposite sex. One day, she’ll have all this freedom and have no clue how to determine who is worthy of her time, not to mention her body. She’ll need practice and time to learn how to establish boundaries and put into action the morals I’ve instilled in her over time. I want my daughter to transition into womanhood sure of herself and confident in her ability to deal with the opposite sex. For this reason, 14 is the age I deem acceptable to start embracing her interest in boys.
Set Rules, But Don’t Be Rigid
Every parent will have different parameters and allowances for their daughter when dating. It is important to set rules, but make sure the rules make sense because teenagers are rebellious by nature and want what we say they can’t have. Let’s face it – we do still have some control, but they are going to find a way to throw caution to the wind and eventually do what it is they want to do in hopes they don’t get caught.
For us, the rules are very clear. If she has someone she is interested in, my husband and I need to meet him, and preferably his parents. This is a little old-fashioned, but if you want to get to know my daughter, I need to know you. She is to keep all online communication and texts respectful because the Internet is forever. Yes, I review text messages and Facebook pages because there can be no privacy expectation with respect to things I pay for. There is a curfew in place. Some people places and things are just off limits without a chaperone. The rules can be adapted as she gets older or situations change, but these are just a few of the basic parameters we have set in place and they’re working.
Stress Preparedness vs. Abstinence
Abstinence is a lovely concept, but in this modern age, I don’t think it is a very realistic one. So, I’m stressing the importance of preparedness instead. It would be nice if my daughters could abstain until marriage, but the reality is I didn’t and they are not likely to either–and there was a lot less pressure then. Instead, I am teaching my children to abstain until they are prepared for everything that comes with being sexually active. Just because you think you are ready, doesn’t mean you are ready. I had to hold onto something firm when I said it, but I told my daughter to please come to me if she ever feels she is ready to have sex. I let her know the feelings are natural and not dirty, but we have to be careful in how we respond to them. I let her know that her body will feel ready before her mind and emotions are fully there, so she needs to keep a level head.
As a follow up, we did was a potential monthly budget for someone who has a child out of wedlock. My daughter is money-motivated and this put things in perspective for her. She knows that being ready isn’t just a feeling;it’s also being in a position to deal with any repercussions that could emerge as a result of the action. This is a tough one and every mother will handle this differently. Honestly, I’d rather look at birth control options than bassinet options.
Don’t Preach Boys are Bad
Growing up, I got the routine boys are bad and you better stay away from them or they’ll ruin your life. So out of curiosity what did I do? Run head first into a boy who, I won’t say ruined my life, but he put things into quite a tailspin. I don’t want to set my daughters up for failure by telling them boys are bad. Instead, I teach them boys have to be prioritized. When my daughter is a woman, I want her to make sound decisions regarding men. The best way to get her in the practice of understanding male characteristics and behaviors right now. I let her know that she may be more ready for commitment before he is, or she may find that she’s attracted to people she’s not compatible with and that has to be worked through.
Zero Tolerance on Abuse and Date Rape
When it comes to my daughters we operate on a safety first principle. If I deem something, someone or some place unsafe, the answer is no. The same principle stands when it comes to how they are treated in friendships and relationships with boys. They understand that if a boy demeans, threatens or hits them – it is abuse and it is not to be tolerated. If a boy touches her of forces himself on her without consent, it is rape. She is to avoid the land of the ambiguous no. Your mouth and body language must read no. I’ve warned my daughter about the dangers of putting herself in compromising position and she knows she has to be her own first line of defense and avoid questionable situations to the best of her ability. If a boy crosses this boundary, there are nosecond chances. Apology not accepted.
Divide Her Focus
I don’t think the problem with teen dating is not teen dating itself, for me it’s the fear that my girl will lose sight of what’s really important such as her education, goals and personal development. I try to keep my daughter as active and engaged in her own interests as I possibly can, so that she has enough going on in her life that a boyfriend would be just another part of her life, not her entire life. My job as a mother is to be competitive and keep her from blurring the line between where he ends and she begins.
The Truth About Trust
As much as it terrifies me, I know once she starts dating there is the possibility someone will break her heart. We’ve all been there and I’ve learned the best thing to do is teach my daughter the truth about trust. Our trust should not be in whether or not someone will violate our trust, but rather we must to put our trust in our own ability to overcome the transgression. Disappointments are a part of life and there will come a time where some breaches her trust. I stress to her that people are human and should not be put on pedestals because there is nothing for them to do but fall. As my daughter enters this new phase of her life, I want her to know some people will enter her life for a reason and others for a season. I hope she grows as a result of each relationship and learns more about herself along the way.
How are you handling dating with your teen daughter?