Your teenage daughter is growing up, and the introduction of a new romantic partner in her life could be one of the most unsettling developmental changes you have to encounter. While dealing with her dating life might induce some panic in you, remember your influence in helping her make healthy relationship choices now, will have profound effects on her emotional and social well-being throughout adulthood.
Preparing for First Dates
From the outset, you face the challenge of accepting that your daughter is about to go on dates. Making her wait until she is 21 is not realistic. If you don’t give her permission now, she is most likely going to lie to you and date behind your back.
Once you have given her your blessings, set clear rules and boundaries. Express your dating conditions, such as her date’s age (who is too old or too young), appropriate activities and curfews. Instead of just plainly stating “no”, take time to explain your reasoning for restricting her from certain things or places. It is important to demonstrate that you are not simply trying to control her life.
Before your daughter leaves the house, make sure that you are aware of exactly where she will be, who she will be with and what she will be doing. Safety is a concern and you want to be prepared to take action if needed. If possible, ask to meet her date. Assure your daughter that she can call you anytime if she feels uncomfortable or if the situation is spiralling out of hand.
This is also the time to talk to her openly about sex and your family’s value systems. Even though it might be an awkward conversation, your child needs to have accurate information about sex rather than the glamorized notions often portrayed in the media or what their friends tell them. If your daughter feels the pressure to have sex, discuss why it might be best to wait and how to say no.
After your daughter has had a few casual dating experiences, she might be ready to pursue a more serious romantic relationship. You can discuss her preferences and what to look for in a partner.
It is common for teens to be attracted by popularity, riches and good looks, so explain why these glorified traits might not offer long-term satisfaction. Instead, ask her to consider her love interest’s values, their shared interests, whether the person displays care and concern for her, whether she enjoys spending time with them, and how they treat others.
When talking to her, try to be understanding and nonjudgmental. Recall your own experiences falling in love and your wholehearted conviction that the relationship would last forever. Even though you might know the breakup is just around the corner, do not burst her bubble–give her the chance to experience the exhilaration of first love.
You can pre-emptively buffer the negative consequences of a breakup by helping your daughter to maintain her social network and support system. Encourage her to see her friends, engage in her usual extra-curricular activities, and find meaning in aspects of life beyond the relationship. This way she will be less likely to be left feeling empty and alienated when the relationship is dissolved.
Coping with Breakups
You cannot protect her entirely from the devastating effects of heartbreak, which often elicit deeper issues and insecurities. During this time, her self-esteem is fragile. Give her your unconditional attention, listen actively, and provide her with comfort and reassurance that she is still a worthy person who will find love once again. Be her source of positive emotional support.
Even if you saw all the signs that the relationship was doomed from the start, avoid any “I told you so” or trivializing remarks – your teen’s pain is real to her and deserves validation. Also refrain from bashing her ex and amplifying the emotional negativity surrounding the breakup. Rather, reframe the failed relationship as an opportunity to constructively evaluate what she learned from it.
Give your daughter time to heal and voice her pain in her own way, even if her behaviour might seem overly dramatic to you. At this developmental stage where life begins to get more complex, it is normal for teenage girls to experience intense emotions of both elation and sadness. If you worry that she is sinking into depression, seek advice from a mental health professional.
Finally, do not be too discouraged if your teenage daughter does not seem to be responding the way you hoped for, despite your best efforts. Even if she appears to be ignoring you or constantly rolling her eyes, have faith that your daughter values your input, even though she might be too embarrassed or stubborn to admit it now.
- Heimbuch, Craig J. (2010). Teen Dating. Man of the House, April 08.
- Langlois, Christine. (1999). Understanding Your Teen: Ages 13 to 19. Ballantine Books, Mississauga, Canada.
- Vivo, Meghan. (2011). Surviving Your Teen’s First Love (and Break-Up). By Parents for Parents.
About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.
First published on 01-08-2011.