PREPARING YOUR DAUGHTER FOR FUTURE HAPPINESS
It is our job as parents to help our daughters make smart choices about whom to date and to teach them how to identify the difference between the thrill of attraction and the stability of attachment. The ideal time for discussing these issues is before your daughter even begins dating, but even if it is too late for that, these conversations are worth having. Here are some ideas to get you started.
GUIDE HER IN BEING SMART ABOUT WHOM SHE DATES
Talk with your daughter about what the make-or-break character traits in a man are so that she can accurately assess potential boyfriends—and eventually a potential spouse. I believe both Mom and Dad will have distinct ideas in this area; so input from both parents will be invaluable. This awareness will go a long ways in ensuring that your daughter doesn’t have a broken picker—that she won’t fall into the trap of dating boys who are not good for her.
My wife and I have tried to teach our daughters that in order for a boy to be worthy of their interest, he must have certain character traits. We’ve taught them that they have value—they are the imago Dei—and that they need to choose boys who mirror that value. Even as I was trying to stop Jackie from dating, it was my hope that when she did start to date she would have strong standards for a boy. In the years since, I have asked my daughters what they are looking for in a boy and to write up a list. Tamara and I have been open with our children about the type of person we’d like them to be with. There is, of course, no guarantee that our kids will take our advice into account. But even so, I think that encouraging teens to think about the qualities they are looking for in a date and to write down their answers will also help them think more logically about the people they get involved with romantically.
While my parents and I didn’t have this conversation when I was in high school, we have had it often in the years since. They usually ask me what I am looking for in a guy I want to date and what I am looking for in a husband—and then make some of their own suggestions. You might prime the pump by asking your daughter questions such as: What qualities does your dream guy have? Is he a Christian? What would you like his family structure to look like? How does he treat his family? Would you be happy if he had been in lots of relationships before? What are the three most important personality traits that you think he needs to have? What kinds of school activities do you want him to be involved in? Does he get good grades? Then, encourage her to measure every potential suitor by her list. This will help her suss out what she is looking for. When I am interested in a guy, my parents ask me these same sets of questions to help make sure that the choice I am making is a smart one.
But it’s not enough to have a list of qualities. As our daughters date, they need to learn to look for “the moments”—those instances when the character of the boy they are dating is tested and revealed. For my oldest sister this same type of moment came early in her relationship with her future husband. While they were driving down the freeway during a terrible ice storm, a car in front of them lost control and crashed. In that moment her boyfriend was unfazed. In that moment he acted with strength and unflappability and his character confirmed this was a fella for her. They have been married for thirty-four years.
If the boy’s character fails the test, let your daughter know she needs to have the insight and strength to move on. Our daughters need to hear us tell them over and over not to spend one more minute, emotion, or tear on a boy who demonstrates that he is not worthy of their love. For nearly forty years L’Oréal’s commercial tagline was “Because I’m worth it.” Our daughters need to live like they are in a L’Oréal commercial.
Which leads me to the question, What do you do when your daughter has interest in someone you believe isn’t good for her? How do you guide her to date smart then? Like so many dilemmas in parenting, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. However, unless she has brought home a boy who is an immediate and serious threat to her, you may need to let the situation play out a bit. Be wary of taking a hard-line approach. To a certain degree your daughter cannot help what she is feeling. You may not be happy with her choice, but the more you push against her, the more she may lean into the boyfriend. Instead, I recommend that you closely monitor the relationship and be ready to take drastic action if it is needed.
TEACH HER ABOUT THE THREE STAGES OF A RELATIONSHIP
You and your daughter should be conversant with the terms lust, attraction, and attachment. If she has never heard these words and doesn’t know how the three stages differ from one another, how can she hope to be discerning about what she really feels for her boyfriend?
As parents we need to remember that if a girl has been in a relationship for just a few months, her feelings for her boyfriend are likely the strongest emotions she has ever felt in her life. If she does not know the difference between attraction and attachment, she is likely to begin making choices and actions based on the idea that she is in love. e more she understands the difference between attraction and attachment, the smarter she will be in her relationship choices.
Help her understand what real love is, and that sacrifice (not stupid sacrifice) is very much the heart of love. If your daughter is in a relationship, she should ask herself a few questions: Does he open doors for me? Does he ask me my preference on dates? Is he willing to make time for me even though he may have a busy schedule? Does he often put my needs ahead of his own? These are all ways in which a teen boy can demonstrate a willingness to be sacrificial. From the earliest stages of a relationship, our daughters need to know that if a boy is not sacrificial toward her, then he is not worthy of her. Too many young girls stick around with jerky, selfish boys because they do not understand that attraction and attachment are different.
I also encourage you to tell your daughter the story of how your marriage relationship unfolded. As early as her middle school years, take an opportunity to tell her about how you moved from attraction to attachment. Let her know how long you were in the relationship before you knew it was the deep love of attachment.
TEACH HER TO ASK HERSELF, “IS THIS SOMETHING I WILL REGRET LATER?”
Consider discussing the following list of stupid sacrifices with your daughter, encouraging her to think about the impact of these choices and how she might feel about their consequences, particularly if the relationship ends.
- You ditch your friends mid-movie so you can call and talk with your boyfriend.
- You stay home on a Friday night just in case your boyfriend gets done early from his other activity and wants to hang out.
- You skip a trip going anywhere on this planet so you can spend time with your boyfriend.
- You let your grades suffer so you can talk, chat, and text with your boyfriend more.
- You quit any sport, play, job, musical, or other activity you enjoy to spend more time with your boyfriend.
- You skip a class in school to hang out with your boyfriend. (This is doubly stupid sacrifice. You are getting stupider by not going to class.)
- You spend less time with your best friends to spend more time with your boyfriend.
- You lie to your parents about where you are going so you can see your boyfriend.
- You do things sexually that you think are wrong and inconsistent with who you are and who you want to be.
ENCOURAGE HER TO ESTABLISH TIME AND COMMUNICATION BOUNDARIES
As parents we need to help our daughters maintain limits and boundaries while they are young. All too often I encounter parents who are checked out when it comes to their daughter’s relationship with her boyfriend. The girl is venturing without mature direction and acting on her own instincts and going places emotionally and physically that are not good for her, yet the parents stand idly by. It is our job as parents to help our daughters understand where safe and healthy limits are when it comes to relationships.
Here are some suggestions that I think would have helped guide and protect me when I was a teenage girl. Your daughter is probably not going to like some of these, but I can guarantee you that she will thank you for them later.
- Help your daughter practice the one-to-one ratio for boyfriend and friends. If she spends Saturday with her boyfriend, make sure she spends Sunday with her girlfriends. It is important that her circle of friends remains intact for many reasons.
- Do not allow her to be on the computer or accessing the Internet on her smartphone or iPad behind a closed door. Definitely do not allow her to have a cell phone in her room when it’s time for her to be in bed. At the very least you can help ensure your daughter a good night’s sleep uninterrupted by the buzzing of the phone. My parents did a really great job of this, and I think that I’m a better person for it. This boundary was true of talking to girlfriends as well.
- Try your hardest to make sure your daughter is engaged in a variety of activities that don’t involve her boyfriend. Encourage her to join a club, sport, or activity that interests her and helps her create other sources of connection and relationship. My dad was especially supportive of me creating a community of wonderful women who surround me still to this day.
- Don’t let your daughter ever spend unsupervised time alone with her significant other. Need I say more?
- Help your daughter maintain separation from her family life. She needs to realize that unless she is married to him, her boyfriend is not part of your family. Don’t take him on family vacations, don’t have him over for the holidays, and definitely don’t let him live with you.
If your daughter wants to break up with her boyfriend, she needs to make the break as clean and quick as possible. If you have involved him in your family, this makes it much more difficult for her to do this. He needs to know that he is on the outside of your family and that your daughter is on the inside.
People who have balance in their lives recognize that a dating or marriage relationship is just one facet of their identity. While my marriage is a top priority for me, it does not define who I am. Nor should a relationship define your daughter. A dating relationship should be one part of a rich and full life. A healthy relationship has room for friends, family, sports, hobbies, passions, and more. A healthy dating relationship is one in which time apart is as important as time together; it is one in which the feeling of love is balanced against the understanding of what real love is. If we can help our daughters make this distinction, they will be far more likely to date smart.
© 2016 Daniel Anderson and Jacquelyn Anderson. 10 Myths of Teen Dating is published by David C Cook. All rights reserved.