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Daughter, 14, is dating 18-year-old

Question: My 14-year-old daughter has recently begun to date a young man who is 18. Initially she told us he was 16, thinking we would accept him better if we thought he was younger. However, we have found out how old he really is and are concerned about her dating someone four years older than she. We hesitate to tell her she can't see him, yet her father and I do not feel comfortable with his age. Is it fair to tell her that she can't go out with him? (She already feels we do not have the right to "pick her friends.")

Answer: Picking a child's friends (especially of the same gender) is one thing, whereas allowing a 14-year-old girl to date a man is another issue. Kids believe they use good judgment in choosing their friends, and often, if parents get to know these kids, they can see the wisdom in their children's choices.

Allowing a 14-year-old to date an adult, however, is probably unwise. Although she would most likely disagree, your daughter's worldliness is limited and she may be quite naive about relationships and sexual matters. The young man may be a terrific kid, but most likely his experience is significantly greater than your daughter's, and she may be thrown into making adult decisions as a young adolescent.

To be fair to both her and her friend, it may be wise to meet him and ascertain his maturity level. If he seems to behave more like a 16-year-old (in terms of experience with past relationships and the way he treats your daughter), it may be okay to allow him to visit her in a supervised setting until you feel comfortable with the relationship. If his experience appears to be out of her league, it's probably best to discourage the relationship before she gets too involved. I'm sure that your daughter will not understand this and may become quite angry with you and your husband. Try to explain your reasons to her. Encourage friendships with kids her own age and be prepared for a temporary cold war between the generations. Soon she'll meet a new friend closer to her age; you can show her that you will accept someone who is more appropriate for her and that you're truly not trying to pick her friends. I wouldn't expect her to understand your decision if you discourage the relationship with the older boy, and you may have to endure her wrath for a period of time. I would imagine this won't be the first time _ and it certainly won't be the last!

It takes a great deal of courage to say "no" to something that your child deems important, but there are times when you, as the parent, know better and you have to stick to your guns.

For 20 years, psychologist Ruth Peters has specialized in treating children and families. If you have questions for her, or suggestions about what has worked for you during your children's middle years, please send them to Middle Ground, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Please include your name and phone number, which won't be published.

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