A few months ago at a party, I met a lovely woman who casually recounted a conversation she had with her teenage daughter: "I told her, 'You have so many great talents and strengths, I really want you to focus on school and activities and not date until your senior year in high school -- or later.' She burst into tears! But I think she got over it."
I'm not sure why I was so repulsed -- after all, it's nothing new that parents are strict about their daughters and dating. It's not just indicative of ancient ideas about girls and sexuality (we must protect our precious daughters' precious virginity!), but of current trends that push young women to career and financial success to the point of forsaking their emotional and maternal needs, as I explored in this post.
That recent incident led me to explore my own ideas about how I will manage my kids' dating lives. My policy will be to allow them to explore dating as very soon as they want (if not sooner). Here's why:
- Insisting that my kids focus on school (and by proxy, career and money) before dating establishes priorities for them. My job as a mom is to help my children form their own thoughts on these giant issues -- not impose my own.
- Of course, my own feelings will influence that of my kids (one way or the other), and I want my belief on this topic to be clear: Love, relationship and family are the most important things in life. Dictating that our children consciously delay dating en lieu of building a competitive college application signals that college, career and coin trump all. I don't believe that.
- Telling young people to ignore the biological, social and emotional urges to date represses their intuition, which diminishes self-confidence.
- Instructing young people to ignore their biological, social and emotional urges until a specific date indicates we can fit biology into our lives when it's convenient. Which is a lie. Just read this article about infertility.
- Forbidding romance deems love, sex, romance and passion shameful. It's not shameful. It's awesome -- the best stuff of life. I want my kids to have it in spades!
- Denying young adults the right to date tells them, 'It's not OK to screw up." It says: "You only have one chance to get accepted to a good college/get a great investment banking job/ save up for a home/start stockpiling retirement savings early. If you spend too much time fooling around behind the football field bleachers and don't get a good SAT score, you will pay the price for the rest of eternity." I don't live like that, and I hope my kids never do, either.
- Telling them to start dating at a specific time suggests that relationships are instantly had and held. They are not. Successful relationships require tons of work, patience and practice. Early and positive learning experiences in love are at least as important as early and positive learning experiences had in school, sports and business.
- I can't control them. No matter how great a relationship I hope to maintain with my children, they are their own people. As my wise friend Traci once said: Sex and teenagers are like monsoons and tornadoes: Not one thing you can do to stop 'em from happening.
Question: What messages do you tell your kids about dating? Do you restrict when they can start?