Mary, the “mom”
I recently had the opportunity to catch up with an old friend. She was telling me about her thirteen-year-old daughter having a boyfriend. A boyfriend she’s been “going out” with for eight months now. A boyfriend they have accepted and even welcomed into their home and family. It was clear she has grudgingly accepted the fact that her daughter is growing up, and fast. But she wasn’t exactly happy about it.
My response was, “Well, what choices do you have? If you forbid it, you just set the stage for her to lie and sneak around in order to see this boy. This way, you’re aware of what’s going on and in a position to supervise.” My friend agreed but told me that most of her other friends felt differently. They thought she was crazy to allow this relationship to go on.
It’s easy for me to spout my theory when it’s just that – a theory. I do have a thirteen-year-old daughter, but there is no boyfriend on the horizon. So, “dad” how did you handle the boyfriend issue with your daughters? Rach, what’s your take on it?
Rach, the “teen”
My parents never forbid me from seeing anyone. At 11 they drove me to see my first boyfriend. At 15 they allowed me to date a senior in high school. And at 18 they seem happy to see me dating the boy who’s been chasing me.
I think parents should always be supportive. Parents who forbid their kids from seeing someone, or dating till a certain age are asking for their kid to lie to them. Parents who disapprove of a certain person should say something or set boundaries, forbidding isn’t an effective way to stop a behavior.
When I was fourteen, my best friends mom forbids him from seeing or speaking to me. His mom said I was a bad influence, and my parents were shocked but they stayed out of it. We got around the ban (by meeting at mutual friends houses and talking by email), but it was incredibly hard. Being banned from a best friend is terrible, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be banned from a boyfriend.
Brad, the “dad”
I’m sorry, what is this ‘boyfriend’ thing of which you speak? As we all know, the standard practice for Dads when it comes to dating daughters is to stick one’s fingers in one’s ears and go “la la la la” until Mom handles it.
So far, we have dodged this particular bullet – our daughters have both decided, pretty much on their own, that they’re not ready for boyfriends yet, though with the Valkyrie heading off to college in mere weeks, I know that’s going to change way too soon. We did have this problem with a “bad influence” friend and Rachel are right: it’s virtually impossible, given the wide range of activities and low level of supervision, to really “ban” anybody, at any teen-like age. If the Valk or the Elf wants to see somebody – romantically or otherwise – we parents would be foolish to think we could absolutely prevent it.
Still…I think that even if they would never admit it or show it, our kids really do want our approval and respect. So when we’ve dealt with less-than-perfect friends, we’ve let our daughter know directly – and privately, not in front of sibs or other friends – that we don’t really like the Kid in Question. And we tell her why. In some instances, it’s actually made her re-think the liaison. In others, she’s disagreed. Strenuously. Even tearfully. And I have to admit, in a couple of cases the girl was right and we were wrong: the Kid in Question wasn’t so bad after all. We also found in one crucial case that bringing in a respected third party – an older sister, an older, long-time friend or relative – who could say basically what we would have said, but without the “parent thing” wrapped around it, did a world of good. The girls actually heard the message rather than raged at the messenger, and backed away from a potentially bad situation.
I am clinging to the idea that our daughters’ judgment is already good enough to keep them from making really bad mistakes about men. But this is the real world and the 21st century, and chances are they’ll get hurt. After we’ve done our best – limited though it may be – to protect them, our real job as parents of teens and adults is to accept what we couldn’t prevent and help them heal. Not the most fun part of the gig, but there you go.