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 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 my kids to 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 the 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.
It should go without saying that my kids will know alllllll about safe sex, and respecting their own and others’ bodies. It’ s my duty to help them seek balance and strive for success in every part of their lives. But starting now, at ages 3 and 5, I hope my children start to absorb the message that dating is positive. Their bodies’ signals are natural and beautiful. And that no matter what, there are few decisions that are perfect, or mistakes that are not ripe for learning. And that love trumps all.Question: What messages do you tell your kids about dating? Do you restrict when they can start?
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.