Dear Your Teen:
Our 15-1/2 year-old daughter wants to date an almost 18-year-old boy. We have tried to discuss the age difference. He will soon be 18 and going to college. How do we keep explaining to her the differences of their ages? Do you think it is wrong for her to date this boy? Can a 15-year-old date an 18-year-old safely? We have met him. He is polite and quiet.
Expert | Tori Cordiano, Ph.D.
Many parents are apprehensive when their teenagers start to date. And that apprehension is exacerbated if a son or daughter chooses to date an older peer. While it raises the anxiety of parents everywhere, teen dating serves as good practice for future relationships and allows teens to consider what qualities are important to them in a relationship. Age gap dating may be one such factor, but hopefully so will things like respect, support, safety, and communication.
Your daughter’s desire to date an older boy may not match your view of whom she should date. But short of keeping her home and removing her access to technology, you’re unlikely to block her from being in contact with him.
Rather than banning the relationship, you might consider explicitly sharing your concerns with your daughter, while also acknowledging her good feelings about the relationship.
This will first involve some internal clarification around what exactly bothers you about the relationship. Are you worried that your daughter might be faced with situations she’s not yet mature enough to handle? Or are you concerned that she’ll get overly attached to a relationship that will end or change once this boy leaves for college?
Once you’ve clarified your own concerns, find a calm time to discuss them with your daughter. Something along the lines of, “We want to support your decision to date someone who makes you feel good, but we’re concerned that the difference in your ages might [insert your concern here]. Have you thought about what you’ll do if [concerning situation] comes up?”
This lets your daughter know that you’re not writing the relationship off. You are thinking about her well-being and how best to support her.
You mentioned that you’ve met this older teen. Getting to know him a bit will provide you with more information. It may also serve to ease your fears about the relationship. It also lets your daughter know that you’re not summarily dismissing the relationship, but that you do want to know more about the person with whom she wants to spend her time.
If this is your daughter’s first foray into dating, it’s a great time to outline your expectations in this area. Although they aren’t the easiest conversations to have, getting (reasonably) comfortable talking with your daughter about all that goes along with teen dating—e.g., logistical issues such as how late she can stay out and where she can go as well as larger issues such as what you want her to know about relationship qualities and sexual activity—lets her know that your aim is to support her in her desire to pursue a relationship while at the same time looking out for her safety and well-being.
Ideally, you’re able to return to these conversations over time as this and any future relationships unfold. While you may not see eye to eye on whom she should date, you’ll be cultivating a relationship that allows for honest communication and ready support as she navigates these first relationships.