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Age Gap Friendships: Should A Freshman Hang With Seniors?

Teenagers and Friends: Freshman and Senior Friendships

Dear Your Teen:

This summer, my 15-year-old daughter began hanging out (at camp) with some older girls (1-2 years older) we’ve never met. Lots of cool, racy stuff gets discussed by teenagers away from home. We get that. Though our daughter only sees these girls at camp, they all live within driving distance. When she started asking if she could have sleepovers at a couple of these girls’ houses, we said not until we meet them and their parents (which has always been our rule).

I was able to find an adult I trust who knows both our daughter and these girls. She is fair-minded and honest. When I asked about some of the girls, her responses were mixed. But when we told our daughter we’d rather she stick to girls her age, who we can get to know, she said, “Why don’t you trust me?” and “You’re so judgmental.” Bottom line: With an adventurous and curious daughter, how do you set boundaries for safe teen friendships that we can all live with?

Sincerely, A Confused Father

EXPERT | Barbara Greenberg, Ph.D.

You ask a very important and fair question. I understand your concerns. There is generally a big maturity difference between 15-year-old and 17-year-old girls and as you implied you are concerned that your daughter might be exposed to behaviors and peer pressure that she is not ready for. When it comes to teenagers and friends, this is a legitimate concern. I agree that it’s preferable for your daughter to spend much of her social time with same aged peers. You could, however, consider getting to know some of these young women from camp and perhaps allowing your daughter to have the ones that you are comfortable with over to your house on occasion. When your daughter suggests that you don’t trust her, she is in fact correct. It would be a mistake to completely trust an adventurous and curious young teen.

Perhaps when your daughter suggests that you are judgmental and not inclined to trust her, you can respond by explaining to her that it is your job to keep her safe and that part of keeping her safe is to set limits and boundaries for her. While she may not be happy with this line of thinking, she should nonetheless be aware of what you are thinking and what your role as the father of a teen entails. Believe me when I tell you that she will eventually thank you for setting these limits. After all, teens secretly want parents to set limits. But this is their well-kept secret.

Good Luck!

Dr. Barbara Greenberg

Dr. Barbara Greenberg is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of teens, children, and families. She is the co-author of Teenage as a Second Language. She writes and consults for several publications and frequently appears on TV. You can find her work on her website drbarbaragreenberg.com.