Q: My 14-year-old daughter tells us that all her friends are dating now and that waiting until she’s 16, like we did, is very “outdated.” We haven’t budged yet, but my wife and I are questioning if we’re being too strict. What do you think?
A: Our first suggestion would be to put less stock in age. Birthdays are legal milestones when it comes to a teen driving a car or casting a vote, but they’re an unreliable measure of maturity. When it comes to teen dating, character is king.
At this point, invite your daughter on a date for some ice cream. After you’ve broken the ice, bring up the subject of dating. Once you’ve respectfully listened to her thoughts, tell her how special she is and that you want only good experiences for her when it comes time for her to date. Let her know you’ll be observing her (and anyone she goes out with) for evidence of key maturity markers that will indicate she’s ready. Let her know what’s on your list, such as integrity, trustworthiness, respect for herself and others, honesty, and responsibility. Spell out what these qualities look like, and give both positive reinforcement and corrective feedback based on what you see in the coming months.
That said, you still would be wise to institute some age-related restrictions. Consider limiting opposite-sex interactions to mixed group settings, such as a youth group, until your daughter has turned 17. This can offer a more secure environment and allow boys and girls the opportunity to learn how to relate and enjoy each other’s company without the awkwardness and sexual tension that often goes along with unsupervised dates.
Above all, keep the lines of communication open. The teen years aren’t simple, but your daughter needs you now more than ever.
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