A Date With Maturity

Dear Mr. Dad: A boy from my 15-year-old daughter’s class is interested in her. He seems nice enough but we think that, at her age, she’s too young to date. We hear so much about the dangers of giving teens too much freedom, and we want to protect our daughter for as long we can. We figure she’ll have many opportunities to date when she is older. Are we being (as she tells us) unreasonable?

A: As the father of three daughters (including a 17-year old) it sounds to me like you’re being caring and responsible parents, and that’s certainly commendable. I also understand why you’d be concerned about your daughter’s safety and well-being. After all, you can’t open a newspaper or check your email without hearing about some kind of horror story, so it’s perfectly normal to want to do everything we possibly can to keep our kids (boys as well as girls) out of harm’s way.

That raises an interesting problem. On one hand we want to protect our children. On the other, one of our main roles as parents is help our kids develop a sense of independence and responsibility. We also want them to develop the kind of judgment and self-confidence that will help them make wise choices as they grow.

In other words, we have to prepare our children to survive in a world where, eventually, they’ll have to make their own decisions and live with the consequences—without mom or dad standing over their shoulder. The time will come soon enough. Just not today.

That said, I think you’ve got a little negotiating room here. With two and a half adults (your daughter would do the math differently) sitting at the same table, I’m confident that you’ll be able to find a way to reconcile your daughter’s desire to spend time with her young man and your need to protect her.

Assuming your daughter is a pretty typical 15-year old, I think she’s too young for one-on-one dates without supervision. But there are compromises. You might say she can’t go out her friend alone, but they can go out in a group. Or, if you and your husband feel comfortable enough with the boy (whom I assume you met), and want to give your daughter some leeway, you might allowing her to go out alone with him–with boundaries. For example, you could drive them to the bowling alley or the movies and have the boy’s parents (or another trusted adult) pick them up afterwards and bring your daughter home. This way, she gets her date and you still get to set some basic rules, such as where she goes and what time she comes home.

Then, in a year or two, you could loosen some of those dating restrictions—as long as she proves she can hold up her end of the deal: sticking with her curfew, keeping her grades up, and getting her household chores done (with or without a smile).

Preventing your daughter from going out at all won’t prepare her for the dating scene or life in general. In fact, such a strict ban might make her look for ways to meet this (and future) boyfriends on the sly. She wouldn’t be the first or the last teen to sneak out and lie about her whereabouts (think Romeo and Juliet). Forbidden love is always so much more exciting and romantic. Remember?

So keep those lines of communication open, reward your daughter for playing by the rules, and give her some room to stretch her wings.