Q: Our 14-year-old daughter is asking us about dating, and my husband and I have told her she'll have to wait until she's 16 for maturity reasons. But this doesn't seem to satisfy her questions. Can you help? We want her to know this is about love, not control, and that we want to help protect her from sexual temptation.
Juli: Dating is one of those parenting issues that every family seems to approach differently. First, how do you define "dating"? Does it mean an exclusive relationship with a boy? Going out for actual dates? There's a big difference between two kids who have a crush on each other and an exclusive relationship involving emotional and physical intimacy.
I'd approach this situation by normalizing your daughter's desire to "date." A lot of her friends are probably "dating," and having a boyfriend may be a big aspect of popularity. It's great to get to know the opposite gender and it's OK to like someone. However, explain to her that a lot of the things people do in dating relationships are harmful -- such as frequent breakups, sexting, or sharing too much emotionally or physically.
In addition to putting kids at risk for early sexual activity, dating in the young teen years interferes with the many healthy activities kids this age need to be doing. In fact, many kids start dating young just because they're bored. Keep your daughter busy discovering activities that match her interests, like sports, volunteering or babysitting. Encourage her to develop healthy friendships with many peers -- guys and gals -- rather than focusing her attention on one individual.
Your daughter may still not be satisfied with that approach, and that's OK. Most 14-year-olds think their parents are out of touch or too strict. We thought that about our parents, too. But in hindsight, she'll be grateful for your protection during these early teen years.
Q: Do you have a list of questions a father should be asking his daughter's potential boyfriend?
Jim: I had a friend, retired from the military, who would make sure that his shotgun was prominently displayed nearby whenever a suitor came calling on his daughter. While she was getting ready, he'd sit each guy down on the couch and say something along the lines of, "My daughter is more important to me than anything. I'd go to jail for her. I expect you to treat her with the utmost respect, or you will answer to me." One guy jumped off the couch and said, "I'm sorry, sir, but I don't want to run the risk of letting you down!" and headed out the front door.
I'm not suggesting you take this approach! But you could use more subtle means to convey the same message: that while your daughter still lives under your roof, she is primarily your responsibility and you expect her to be treated with the utmost care and respect.
As for other questions, the tried-and-true "What are your intentions with my daughter?" is a good measuring stick. Try to find out what his interests are, how he's doing in school, and what his own family is like. His answers to these questions can reveal much about how he feels about your daughter (and women in general), the degree to which he respects authority, and his own value system.
Realistically, a first-time interview is not the most effective means of evaluating a young man's character. If he continues to pursue your daughter, invite him to spend more time with your family. That will better enable you to evaluate whether or not he's a worthy suitor.
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.
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