Going out. Hooking up (and remember: hooking means intercourse in many circles today). Going steady. It's all out there for girls, as early as the fourth grade. Parents can help their daughter understand this world and find a way to not celebrate it but rather keep it in check.
Age and Dating
You thought it was cute when your first-grader talked about her “boyfriend,” but suddenly in fifth grade, it all seems to be getting a bit too real for you. “Dating” is beginning earlier and earlier in life for kids today, in part might be thanks to Hollywood: how many movies has your girl seen where the young heroine falls in love?
Part of it also has to do with society as a whole. More and more things seem to come earlier in life. Middle school semi-formals are an example. So what age is the right age to date? The answer is not as simple as “16 years old,” and is different for each child. It comes down to you as a parent and your child as an informed partner deciding that she is mature enough, responsible enough, and strong enough to begin to date.
You may first want to ask your daughter what exactly “going out” means to her. If it means — as it does in many young girls cases — immediately ignoring the boy she is “going out” with and doing nothing more than write his name over and over on her instant message profile, you may feel that is fine.
You may also want to make sure she's not putting herself in a social situation she is not ready for. Is it expected, in her social circle, that anyone “going out” kisses? Let her know that she can — and should — make her own decisions on such topics. If “going out” means actually dating, you'll want to assess your daughters emotional maturity and decide if she is ready.
Be wary of peer and parent-peer pressure around this debate. Don't let the parent living her past dating life vicariously through her daughter affect you and your daughter's decision on this issue.
Like it or not, boys pressure girls (and girls pressure boys) to do things and get into sexual situations they might not be ready for. Your preteen older daughter may not be ready, and your not allowing her to date at all may be the safety net she needs. Even when she is 13, her cognitive development isn't capable of handling these situations. It cannot hurt to say no for a while.
In the end, it will be up to you. Even if she chooses to “go out” with someone, if you forbid her to be alone with a boy, there will be no “real” dating.
Types of Dates
Girls usually ease their way into dating via group dates — usually to the movies or the mall or the mini-golf links in your town. You'll notice when it begins. Don't think that this group setting ensures nothing inappropriate can happen. If you or your daughter are not ready for dating and personal relationships, she should only be allowed to do such things with adult supervision, even in a group setting.
But if you are just about ready, a group date can be a good first step. Your daughter won't feel awkward and will be surrounded by friends should she decide she's in too deep. Talk to your daughter about a coed event that is planned. Who will be there? What exactly will they be doing? Does she have any worries or fears?
Spin the Bottle and other such games still exist. If you have a coed group hanging out in your family room, make regular trips through the room. Let them know that they're never really alone, and such games will not begin.
Then there is the time it happens: your daughter asks to go out alone on what can only be construed (no matter what she calls it) as a “real date.” Don't lock the doors and seal the windows and threaten her. Instead, take a deep breath and, with her help, decide if it's something she is ready for.
First, is the boy any older than her? This is not always the biggest issue; plenty of girls mature more rapidly than boys. But a boy who has a driver's license and whose friends are having sex with older girls might be a situation your younger daughter is not ready for. Talk to her about it, and if you feel ready to say yes, do so with confidence and support.
Your daughter is probably as nervous, if not more nervous, than you are about it. Don't worry about being old-fashioned: no boy should ever beep his horn in your driveway to summon your daughter. A ring of the doorbell and a brief hello should be expected before they depart. But don't go too far the other way either. “What are your intentions with my daughter” truly is a caricature and at this point, should stay that way.
Don't dismiss your own hunches too. Moms tend to have great “radar.” If you feel a bad situation in the works, end it before it starts. And always give her another way to get home if needed in a crunch: money for a cab or a sibling's cell phone. The message is: if you need to leave a situation, do it in a safe and quick way, and Mom can help you any way you need.
Devise code words with your daughter that she can use to alert you to help her get out of an uncomfortable situation. If she calls you and says the code word, that means you should demand she come home immediately. She'll be safe and can “blame” her departure on you.
You'll want to talk to your daughter about dating etiquette too. While she should never ditch a boy, neither should she ever stay in a situation she is uncomfortable in. Give her a “free pass,” a note or a coin that she can “trade in” for you to help get her out of any situation that goes too far. That would mean you'd have to help her get out of the situation and get home without any punishment.
Let her know that by using it, she'll be saving the punishment, saving herself, but also clueing you into things that you might otherwise not already know about. In other words, you'll help her be safe and not punish her; but that does not mean you won't think more carefully about what you allow her to do in the future. Chances are, if she ends up needing the “pass,” she'll need you to give her more boundaries anyway.
Train your daughter never to leave a drink unattended. That way no one can ever slip anything into it when she is not looking. Overprotective? There's no such thing. Demand she keep this rule for herself.
It's real, and it happens. You'll need to talk to your daughter before she ever starts dating about the basics of date rape. Help her to understand that no always means no, and that if she is not listened to, she needs to scream or seek help immediately.
Also let her know that if date rape happens, she is a victim and should not feel ashamed or afraid. Particularly in the case of an immature or inexperienced girl, date rape can be confusing. Did I cause it myself? Did I ask for it? By letting her know ahead of any chance of this happening that those questions will run through her head, you'll help her recognize them.
The best defense, though, is keeping her out of situations in which it could happen. Don't know a boy well or have never seen his car around town? Just put your foot down and say no to the date. Heard a boy is bad news but see your girl drawn to him? Make sure she only sees him in groups or does not see him at all.
In the end, the best thing she can know is that you are there for her to help her in any situation ever, and that should she be abused during a date, she deserves to be defended and the boy deserves to be punished.
You'll want to teach your daughter and keep your eye out for any signs of dating violence too. It happens, even to strong, dependable girls. Don't think the signs are just bruises and breaks. With teens (and sadly this is common) signs include a date who keeps a girl away from family and friends, cutting her off from any support she may be able to get (sadly, teen girls can see this as “love,” as in “he only wants me to be with him”). Verbal abuse and/or extreme jealousy is a sign too. Alert your daughter to the signs, and watch for them yourself. If you have a strong feeling, immediate intervention is required.
If a girl lingers too long in her grief over a lost love — or does something to harm herself after a breakup, you may want to have her talk to a professional about it. Clinical depression can come in many ways, and you don't want to downplay it.
Coping with Breakups
That first time your little girl's heart is broken you are going to want to spit nails. But you need to practice control. Yes, show her that you care. But also let her know she's young and most likely will experience all sorts of relationships and meet all kinds of boys in the future. Share with her photos and stories of your old flames (without giving too many details). Let her see that most people experience heartbreak and survive it.
And then there are your feelings. It's hard for a parent not to despise a boy when he hurts their daughter, but it's in your best interest to keep your feelings to yourself. Remember when you were in high school and your best friend broke up with her boyfriend? You finally told her how much you hated him. Five years later, that was one wedding you were not invited to. Love can be crazy, and even if it is your child, you should temper your opinions just in case. In the end, the one she loves is her choice, not yours.