8 reasons I want my daughter to date whenever she’s ready

what age should daughter date

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Telling young people to ignore the biological, social and emotional urges to date represses their intuition, which diminishes self confidence.
  4. 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. 
  5. 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!
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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

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.

17 thoughts on “8 reasons I want my daughter to date whenever she’s ready

  1. Of course, if her daughter is tall and goes to high school with a bunch of short boys (ahem), she may not receive many offers to date. So there’s that. In most cases, though, these unreasonable parental restrictions backfire. Either the child dates behind the mother’s back, or the relationship between child and parent is ruined. We’re not talking about heroin here, we’re talking about something normal that teenagers do.

    Well, maybe less “normal”, historically speaking, than getting married at 15.

  2. Hey Emma,
    As you know my daughter is 13, so dating is in the 8th grade is top of mind for both of us. She has a boyfriend, although most of their contact is in the hall and by text. I’m of the same mind as you: explore relationships and your feelings, using common sense and logic, and while being respectful of yourself and others. At her age, we are working through all kinds of issues: who texts who, what makes a good relationship, what is age-appropriate, etc. … and then there are the other girls. That’s a whole separate post!
    As her mom, I’m mostly bracing myself for the first heartbreak and I’m ready to be there when it happens.
    Great post!

  3. With a 23-yr-old daughter & a 17-yr-old son, their dating experiences are vastly different. My daughter has always been mature for her age. In middle school, my rule was no individual dates. If she liked a boy, they could go to the movies in a group – the larger the better. It took pressure off boh of them & made the evening a lot more fun for both.

    She had the same boyfriend all thru high school. Surprisingly he loved to cook. At 15, many of their dates were cooking dinner for the family. I took them to the grocery store, bought whatever they wanted & turned them loose in the kitchen. I miss that one!

    My son is a bit more shy and isn’t the social butterfly to the extent of his sister. That’s fine. I realize that he’ll date when he’s ready.

    For both, we have a hard & fast rule: if you are ever in a situation where you aren’t comfortable or are unable to drive, we will pick them up, no questions asked (that night). My daughter used that twice during high school. Today she is grateful for how we handled these situations. Good luck!

    1. Liz, sounds like you were a super-cool mom who handled dating with grace and humor. Ultimately I think most parents want their kids to have fun, comfortable dating experiences, but we let our own fear for their safety and happiness get in the way sometimes.

      1. Oh I agree completely. It’s not easy. Adequate supervision, insisting on speaking to other parents when I don’t know them — if I wasn’t feeling it, then it wasn’t happening.

  4. I shared this with my 17yo. It reflects so much of what we’ve been discussing lately. Thank you for point 3- intuition. I hadn’t considered that in this context but listening to intuition (especially when it comes to safety and individuals) is so important and is something we have discussed often.

  5. My parents forbade me from dating because of archaic fundamentalist Christian notions about protecting female’s virginity. It turned me into a pressure cooker of negative emotions, pent up sexual frustration and has been the catalyst for abusive relationships. Please, parents, let your kids experiment dating and positive sexual experiences while they are young so they don’t end up with a host of pathological issues and insecurities. I’m now 28, pregnant and single partially because I never developed the mechanisms necessary to grow healthy relationships during those formative years. Let them date. Let them live. Let them be.

  6. Interesting perspective. I have a 13 year old daughter, 12 year old son, and 5 year old daughter. There is a rule in my house that no dating is allowed until the age of 16 and when the time comes to date, they will be chaperoned by an adult (preferably one of the parents). I run a household based on Christian beliefs and my children are taught at the appropriate age on sexual purity and waiting until marriage. I know parents who have rules on waiting to date (but more for Christian beliefs and sexual purity until marriage) and their children are doing just fine and haven’t developed any issues from being told to wait. My fear is not on my kids focusing on goals or even our Christian beliefs, but more so not them becoming teen parents. As, we know the burden of taking care of these children will fall mostly on the grandparents themselves which further delays my own future plans when the kids leave the house. I think on this topic, parents need to find what works for their specific households as there can be successes and failures with all methods.

  7. Hmm, this is all well and good, but it seems to be willfully in denial of some important details.

    Why do you think your growing and immature child – and whatever you insist about a daughter being “mature for her age”, the fact remains that she is actually emotionally immature when it comes to really understand who she is, what she wants, and knowing how to judge boys and where their relationship will go – will be the best person to know when she is ready? I get that you’re trying to empower your child and put them in charge of their own lives, and I agree with that philosophy to an extent, but the reason you’re her mother and not her peer is because it’s your job to PARENT her. And trust me, even intelligent, sensible, well balanced and relatively mature teenagers are often making poor judgments in relationships, sexual behavior and even friendships.

    The problem with your argument is that you seem to be placing conservative parenting in the “deny love until career/college/success” camp or the “sexual purity” camp when I don’t think that’s the whole picture. Sex is wonderful and good, but often young girls go into it hoping that sex will mean love, or that sex will validate their beauty and desirable. Almost ALL teenage girls go through this, and even into their twenties too, and no it often doesn’t mean they had bad mothers. Even girls raised with love and care, girls who are taught self-esteem, do this. And why is that? Because however much you teach self-esteem at home, they are still going to go out into the world and battle in environments which make it hard to remember the lessons you taught them. They often need to re-discover that on their own, and that takes time.

    In the mean time, by stripping away their boundaries regarding relationships, you’re encouraging a very high-risk pattern of behavior. You’re telling your daughter to do as she pleases as long as she feels respected or safe, but you’re forgetting that she cannot be trusted to make those judgments accurately no matter what you may think. Your teenage daughter is NAIVE. Period. This is how liberally raised young women get into dysfunctional relationships or fall prey to predatory men with convincing masks – because they weren’t protected enough when their sense of self and the ability to understand, read and judge men were still being developed. And choosing the wrong partner and being deeply hurt can do more damage to their self-esteem, especially at such a young age, than being alone would have.

    In the end, it’s obviously your daughter and your life so I’m not going to keep lecturing you on your blog. Good luck.

    1. I agree. I will have an age for my daughter to dqte with lots of boundaries. While I love the idea of intuition and want to/try to encourage that in my daughter, I know from experience that I was too naive and needy to make good sexual choices. I ended up ruining my own sexuality nd have lasting scars as a result. Sex is too important, too big to treat as something you casually explore. Certainly not at that age. I think having dating in groups, limits let your child get her toes wet in that world without the baggage and damage that can come from sexuality that she is not yet ready to handle. Sex has a way of changing EVERYTHING and is powerful. Too powerful for young teens to handle.

  8. I have four children & my oldest daughter who is 15 has just started to date one of her classmates. I allow her guy friend to attend church with us & he recently came over for Sunday dinner. I like to say, he’s dating the family. My Daughter is very family oriented, so she enjoys the dynamic. The urge for them to go on dates alone, of course will eventually come. At that time, I will encourage group dating. I am 32 and had my daughter at age 16. I have always & will continue to encourage her to wait before having sex. She has expressed to me that she isn’t ready. Thank you Jesus! But until then, I will continue instill the importance of self love and understanding that her body is her temple. & that sex is not Love. We realistically cannot control our children, so my hopes are that whenever she is ready, that she will come to me first. I will be here to support her and guide her to the best of my ability the entire way

  9. I think it depends on the kid but most are not mature enough at 13 or 14 to handle it. I don’t want my daughter to date until she is 16. I know her better than anyone and I know she isn’t ready at 14. I want her to focus on herself, not on a boy. She needs to hang out with friends, enjoy activities at school and socially, and yes, decide what she would like to do with her life ( education, career, etc). There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting your daughter ( or son) to focus on these things. She is so much more than a “girl friend” to someone.

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