My 14-year-old daughter has a boyfriend and she wants to spend time alone with him. Every chance they get their faces are stuck together, and the other day I noticed a hicky under her collarbone.
We require doors to be open in the family room (or wherever they are) when he’s over, but I can’t be aware every time she sees him or when she’s out with friends. I am trying to figure out if I need to accept that they are going to make out, and that this is normal, or should I try to be more intrusive.
She’s absolutely mortified, of course, by my presence. Will insisting on “walk thru” every few minutes make them more secretive and sneaky? Is 14 too young to date? What are the rules for dating at 14? How far is too far for my 14-year-old and her boyfriend? He’s fairly “out there” about his attraction to her, and she seems to like that a lot.
ANSWER | Tori Cordiano, Ph.D.
Teen dating is a wild ride, filled with ups and downs for teens and the grown-ups charged with their care. The pace at which teens enter into romantic relationships is just as individual as the teens themselves; while some 14-year-olds are eager to dive into a romantic duo, others dip their toes into dating by spending time in larger groups of peers. Still others stay happily out of the water for some time. All of this is well within the bounds of typical adolescent development. But wherever teens fall on this spectrum, parenting can feel like a constant calibration of limits and freedom.
You’ve started the good work of setting clear limits around what your daughter and her boyfriend are permitted to do in your home. While your daughter is, predictably, aghast when you show your face in the same room as her and her boyfriend, it would feel even stranger to her if you granted her free reign.
Teens expect and count on parents to set limits on their behavior.
Even when they are highly vocal in their displeasure of those limits. And while you’re right that you can’t know for sure what your daughter is doing when she’s not at home, by enforcing limits at home, you can ensure that she knows how you would feel about her choices, wherever she is.
You note that your daughter’s boyfriend puts his attraction to her on display, and that she seems to enjoy this. It is flattering to be on the receiving end of such intense emotions. It will be important to acknowledge this in your conversations with your daughter about this physical part of her relationship. The conversation should also help your daughter learn how to advocate for what she wants in a relationship. She should know how to let her partner know what she does not want. Yes, she will balk and cringe at the conversation, but that is part of her choosing a physical relationship. Ideally, conversations about dating for 14 year olds happen in small doses. They should arise organically and occur when neither of you is upset or angry with the other.
Finally, while your daughter is enjoying a developmentally typical aspect of adolescence, you’ll also want to make sure she has lots of other people and activities that make her feel good. This may mean setting limits around how much time she spends with her boyfriend. You might balance that with family, friends, sports, clubs, and other activities. When teens have numerous people and activities that raise them up, they are quicker to recognize a relationship that may not be working as well as it should.