Teenage Dating

Dear Sharon,

DATING! It has come up as an issue in our house. My daughter is 14. I’m not ready for her to go out on dates with boys. Am I old fashioned? What do you think is a good age for this and should curfews be imposed? If so, what time? I didn’t start dating until I was 16 and I had to be home by 10:30. My daughter tells me that’s outrageous! HELP please. I can’t stand the arguing anymore over this topic.

A played-out MOM.

Dear played-out MOM,

I believe parents should have input into the activities of their teens (dating and other things as well) even if that input seems “old fashioned. Every family gets to figure out their own ideas about what is acceptable. In my opinion 14 is a bit young to begin an intensely emotional dating life but it depends on your daughter‘s personality, level of self confidence, judgment of friends and potential dating partners, and ability to talk to you about the details of her life. If your daughter is self confident, social and usually chooses friends who treat her well then you might give her a chance to date a bit. If you and she are able to figure out ways to talk through the challenges in her life then those discussions will be very important right now.

Having said that, teenagers often have way too much on their emotional plate to be confident and comfortable about their relationships. Pressure from school to make good grades, pressure from friends and the ever present media to look and act perfectly, and pressure from their bodies to change and grow take a big toll on teen’s self esteem. If you look back on your life at 14 you may remember some of the hardships of being a teen. I believe the stresses on teenagers today have actually increased and parents and children are feeling the effects. Given all of the tension coming from outside the home, parent child discussions about the details of a teenager’s life become very important but are quite often difficult.

You are definitely not the only parent arguing with their teen about their social life. As with most parents in your situation it might help if you and your daughter have some fun together. Sometimes a “girl” excursion — even if it includes a shopping trip — can give you and she a chance to laugh or even share stories about relationships. She might be more willing to talk to you about a boy who has her heart and she might also want to hear the story of your first love. These kinds of mother daughter moments can help open discussion and possibly slow things down a bit. Slowing down dating is often a good idea.

You might also want to check in with her about her relationships with other girls. It is common that girls can be mean to each other as the pressures of their lives increase. The difficulties in girl relationships can increase interest in boys. If there are practical things you can do to help your daughter with her girl friends that can help. Sleepovers, girl excursions, enrollment in sports or other activities with girls can be important. Whether your daughter starts having dates or not, making your home into a great place for friends to hang out is a good idea. Having a private space (even if it is small) with teen food, movies and music available can help you keep your daughter and her friends in your sight and sticking to activities that make sense.

Even if you could manage all of the above (no small thing) your daughter could still have the “I’m 14, you need to treat me like an adult” attitude that many teenagers show their parents. Our teens are getting older but they are not “all grown up” and it is important that you set appropriate limits. A curfew for weeknights and weekends is an excellent idea. Requiring that you know where she is, who she is with and what she is doing is even more important. An interest in dating can sometimes lead to poor attendance or dropping grades in school, if that happens you have a right to put stricter limits on dating until things improve.

I conduct workshops for parents of teens and preteens; many other parent centers do as well. Attending groups such as these can help you see that you are not alone in your concerns — that can help.

Even if your daughter objects, abiding by limits, keeping in good communication with her family and having fun with Mom won’t isolate her from the wonderful things about being a teen. They will only make those fun things go better. Best of luck as you tackle one important aspect of this complicated age.