Episode 40: Rules for Dating DaughtersDear Torie, My 14 year old girl (she is our oldest) is a freshman. She has been talking to a boy, who seems very nice and respectful, for over a month. They are in a big group of friends together. I need help with boundaries. They now want to meet downtown and hang out. I was fine with them hanging out in a big group but now I feel more nervous about them getting together by themselves. Is this anywhere on your blog or podcast? I searched and did not find anything. Thank you so much!!!! Andrea
Parent Education Answer:Before we talk about rules for dating daughters, let’s clarify the difference between rules, values, and boundaries. They are often used interchangeably in parenting (I think, because some of us don’t like the idea of giving rules to our kids) so I will differentiate.
BoundariesBoundaries are decisions you make inside your own head to protect yourself. I have a personal boundary (an agreement I’ve made with myself) that, if someone yells at me, I will walk away and remove myself. Yelling feels like a personal attack. I don’t like it. I’m not telling anyone what to do. People can yell as much as they want, it’s just I remove myself every time someone yells at me. You’ll often hear people demand that someone else respect your boundary. It’s not anyone else’s job to respect your boundary, it’s your own. If I have a boundary that I don’t work on Sundays, and my boss calls me to ask a quick question, it’s my job to respect my boundary and not reply until Monday. Setting a boundary is deciding what action step you will take. Andrea says she needs help with boundaries but I think what she’s looking for are rules and values.
RulesRules are established by an authority figure and/or agreed upon by a group. They can be written or unwritten. I have rules for my house that hold true for anyone that enters. No name calling. No hitting or hurting. Get yourself up in the morning. Whoever does laundry gets to keep the cash they find in the dryer. You must wear clothes to the dinner table. Rules are very clear. Kids like rules (as long as there aren’t too many of them) because they like to know what’s expected of them. Kids like to be able to blame their parents’ rules if they feel like they are getting into a situation they aren’t ready for. “My Dad said if he finds me vaping, he’ll take my phone away.” or “I’m not allowed to have a boyfriend until I’m 16.” Parents might even notice kids making up rules that they never actually said: “I have to get straight A’s” or “My dad will kill me if I cut class.” As adults, we recognize that the world is nuanced and situational, but kids tend to think more in black and white. Find some rules that you can stick to with CONVICTION and follow 100%. Do not make rules that you cannot keep or your kids will learn to disregard your authority.
Some rules parents set“Cheat on your test, lose video game privileges for the year.” “Always keep your location turned on on your phone.” “If I ever see you text and drive, you will lose car privileges for the month.” “Be home by 11:00” “No sex until you are at least 18” “No alcohol will be served to a minor in my house, ever.” Same goes for rules for dating daughters. Short. Easy. Clear. If you find your rules aren’t working, you can change them. Don’t feel like you are locking yourself in forever. If Andrea’s daughter is wanting to hang out downtown with a boy, the most relevant rules might be “don’t shoplift” or “keep your phone and location services on”. If you feel strongly that your daughter shouldn’t be alone in public with a boy, you could make it a rule, but it’s pretty unrealistic. You could have a rule that your teen isn’t allowed to be alone in her bedroom with a boy with the door closed. That rule would be easier to uphold.
ValuesI think what really needs attention here is VALUES. Values are something you hold as important to you. Values change over time and differ from person to person. When you were 14, your highest value may have been being popular. Now, as a mom, it might be keeping your children safe. I think what’s happening is Andrea doesn’t know what her values are around her daughter’s dating. This is all new to her, and she is unsure about what to communicate to her daughter about her expectations. We expect our kids to uphold our values. If you are a member of the Mormon church living in Provo, Utah, you don’t have to wonder what to say. The expectations around dating are very clear and shared by the culture around you.
Communicating the rules for dating daughtersIf this isn’t your situation, you might struggle to really know what your values are especially for rules for dating daughters. Many modern-day parents don’t share the same values their siblings, neighbors, even their own parents. When there is no clear culture around us, we’ve got to do a little work to figure out what are values are. The most dominant culture our kids are exposed to today is social media and whatever youtube channels they watch. If we don’t talk to them about OUR values, the media is more than willing to share ITS values with your children. It’s worth taking the time to figure out what your values are around romance and dating and communicate them to your teens.
- Talk to your partner in parenting and ask, “When do we think our kid should have sex for the first time?” It’s hard to communicate a clear message if you and your partner can’t agree on what your values are.
- Communicate your values and expectations to your teenager.
- Ask your kid questions about THEIR values and expectations:
- -When is the right age to have a boyfriend?
- -What is the right age to have sex for the first time?
- -What are you hearing that feels inappropriate to you?
- -Has anyone broken your trust? How do you know if can trust someone?
- -What does hooking up mean? What are your values around relationships?
Life Coaching Answer:What gets in our way from communicating values and expectations to your teens about dating and romantic relationships? Good, old-fashioned fear. Fear of something bad happening. Or the fear of letting go of control. Fear of our child experiencing negative emotions. Perhaps the fear of saying or doing the wrong thing as a parent. Then there is the fear of uncertainty. Maybe the fear of regret. When we try to communicate our values and expectations from a place of fear, it doesn’t come out the way we want it to. We start putting our worries onto our kids. Because our worries usually involve past personal regret and/or a catastrophic future, rather than a current reality, our kids dismiss us and think we are crazy. I think Andrea’s instincts here are pretty good. I think she knows better than to talk to her daughter from this nervous energy. Better to calm down her fears on her own first and get clear on the message she wants to communicate. The best way to move past fear is to talk it out, or write down exactly what you are afraid will happen. Are your past teenage experiences coming into the picture? Are you afraid of what other people will think? Do you think you won’t be able to handle it if your daughter gets hurt? Are you afraid you will be a grandma before you are ready?
Questions to ask yourself before talking to your teenWhat do I want my daughter to think about herself and her ability to navigate healthy romantic relationships? When I talk to her about my values and expectations, how do I want my daughter to feel? What do I want her to do differently as a result of our conversation? If you can communicate openly with your teen in this relaxed, not fearful way, she will learn that you are a valuable resource and open to helping her navigate the exciting and complex world of dating.
Supermom Kryptonite: Our own pastYou would be amazed at how much past hurts can come back to haunt us. When your kids grow into the same age you were when you experienced something traumatic, suddenly life feels overwhelming. Whether it was a friendship betrayal, parental divorce, sexual abuse, or a broken heart, any unresolved issue from your past can rear its ugly head and make parenting our kids so much harder. Telling your story to a compassionate witness is step number one. If you don’t have a partner or friend who can just listen, stay neutral, and offer compassion, hire a therapist. You just need to tell the story of what happened to someone compassionate. If you’ve done that once and you think it’s still got a grip on you, try life coaching. What happens in these past events is that we pick up a belief that we carry forward into our future. “People aren’t trustworthy.” “If I had tried harder and been better, my Dad wouldn’t have left.” “Every time I love someone, they leave me.” “I can’t handle being hurt again.” It’s these beliefs that we need to dig up, question, and then decide whether we want to hold on or let them go.
Supermom Powerboost: A thought downloadA thought download is something I’ve been doing since I was 14 and first started writing in a journal. One of my life coaching teachers, Brooke Castillo, coined this phrase where you take out a piece of paper, or a keyboard, and write down every crazy thought that goes through your brain. This helps us in many ways. First, it gets our thoughts out of our heads and onto paper which immediately gives us relief. Second, it helps us separate out from our thoughts, and shift to being a more neutral observer of our own thoughts. This is the benefit of mediation: being able to have thoughts but not attach to them. When you read back over your thought download, you might notice your thoughts are dramatic, black and white, mean, or not even true. When they are out of your head and onto paper, it makes it easier to access the logical part of our brains that questions. Is it really true that I am a loser? 100% of the time? That just because I yelled at my kids means I’m ruining them forever? The third benefit of a thought download is it shifts you into the part of your brain that can logically question and analyze the value of these thoughts. This makes it easier to re-frame them and deliberately choose thoughts that give you the feeling and result you want.
The Takeaway: Setting the Rules for Dating DaughtersCommunication is the key here. Being able to take it apart and knowing the rules we want to communicate starts with knowing the values and boundaries we want to set. Quote – “First love is a little foolishness and a lot of curiosity.” George Bernard Shaw
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