Adapted from a recent online discussion.
How to tell if a 15-year-old girl is ready to date a 17-year-old
Maryland: Out-of-touch widower dad here, looking for some guidance. My 15-year-old daughter has asked several times to be allowed out with a certain boy. He is two years older and drives. I haven't been 15 for a long time, but I don't remember my sister being allowed on one-on-one dates till she was older. However, I don't want my kid to be the odd one out at school.
I'm having a hard time figuring out whether I'm being overprotective. This is the kind of thing her mother would have known exactly what to do about. What do you or your readers think?
Carolyn: What we think will miss the mark, because we don't know your daughter, and this has everything to do with what kind of kid you have. Does she make good decisions, is she strong enough to stand up to peers, does she recover well from bad decisions, does she choose her friends well, does she have a knack for deceit or does lying make her flush to the roots of her hair? This is a partial list of things that haven't changed, ever: the way kids respond to the world.
And, now, about you — can you answer these questions, or does your out-of-touchness extend to your bond with your kid?
If it's the latter, then your first move is to get to know your daughter better, which starts with listening to her, carefully. Detachment isn't something you can fix in a day, but you can fix it with a sustained effort over time.
If detachment isn't the issue and you're just wondering what the trends are, then talk to other parents — surely you know her friends' parents, at least to say hi? Their word won't be gospel; it's just context for what you already know.
Anonymous 1: And hey, talk to your sister. Ask her what it was like as the 15-year-old who couldn't date.
My plan — we'll see how this goes in 14 years — is that if I don't want my daughter dating someone, she can invite him over as much as she wants. He'll either give up or he'll stick around, and that will probably make me like him no matter what, if he'll put up with that just to be with her.
Carolyn: Two homers on two swings, thanks.
Anonymous 2: Also, get to know the 17-year-old, if you can do it without mortifying your daughter. They're not all alike. Some are still geeky little kids, others are grownups. None of them have good brakes, emotionally, though.
Carolyn: Well said, thanks. But he should do it even if he mortifies his daughter.
Anonymous 3: Another thing to keep in mind is whether you are communicating to your daughter that you don't trust her. That will only encourage her to do the things she wants to do anyway and just skip telling you about it. If you listen to her, explain to her why you are making the rules you are, and are willing to reconsider or find compromises if she has a point, she's more likely to listen.
Carolyn: Very nice, thanks. Trusting communication with parents protects kids better than any prohibition or curfew.