Your daughter telling you that she has a boyfriend is something that most of us aren’t ready for. But the fact that you were trusted enough to have this information shared with you is already a great sign! Among the tween and early teen set, many girls don’t share this with parents for fear of the freak-out. So you have already done something right! My three tips for handling this milestone with the fewest frayed nerves for you and least amount of eye-rolling from her are these:
- Show your excitement! Nothing shuts kids down quicker than launching into a tirade about how they had better not be kissing (or more), this better not affect grades, don’t do this, don’t do that. Begin by asking what your daughter likes about this guy. She’s obviously happy about this, and wants you to be, too. So find out what is so great about this person! Be prepared, you won’t likely find career-driven, deep-thinker, or great humanitarian among the traits identified. Cute, adorable dimple, funny, likes the same Starbucks drink as her, and did I mention cute? These are more likely the attributes admired in the new love interest, and that’s okay!
- Let your daughter live in the happy glow for a bit before inserting a dose of reality, but begin to talk about the values and morals that your family admires. Hopefully you’ve done some of this before, but never fear if it hasn’t come up. Ask her what relationships look like for her peers – do they “hook up” before really becoming committed? How seriously do kids take relationships at whatever age they are? Don’t harshly judge these, just use them as a gauge. Talk about how in your family a boyfriend at this age is fine (if it is), but that kissing or anything physical is something that you believe should wait until age X. If your family believes that boyfriends at young ages should be a mild combination of friendship and crush, then say that and explain why. If you are okay with some level of affection, describe those boundaries and why you feel they are important. My daughter has shared with me that the trend for tweens and teens is to have a “thing” before you decide to be boyfriend/girlfriend. So basically, the aim is to declare a crush and make out to some degree with the object of your affection without any relationship in place. If that goes well, then you decide to be boyfriend/girlfriend or not. I kept my cool while hearing this, and when talking another time, talked with her about the values and morals that our family has. I suggested that physical affection of any kind is not a sport, and not something we take lightly. And that someone kissing her to decide if she is worthy of the label girlfriend (or vice versa) seems like a recipe for heartbreak. Basically, we talked about the how much more respectful it is to yourself and to another person to like someone enough to want to have a relationship, and that it may seem cool to rack up numbers of kissing partners, it is usually something people regret later.
- Rules, rules, rules. Setting some boundaries is important for many reasons, the least of which is that they keep your daughter feeling a little more grounded and secure (no matter what she says – I promise!). Remember to include what they can do, not just what they can’t. You can’t go on an individual date, but you can go as a group with kids we know. You can’t be alone with your honey, but you can text or face time if we’re nearby. You can’t send pictures of anything but your face, but you can talk on the phone. We’d love to get to know him, so we’d love to have you invite him over for dinner or family game night. Remember that the way we interacted with boyfriends is not what kids do anymore. My daughter does not yet date, but in a pre-emptive conversation, we were talking about what it would be like. I mentioned that we would have to figure out a rule about where she could be in the house when she was talking to a boyfriend on the phone. Her reply? In a seriously baffled way, she asked “why would we be talking on the phone?” I guess I have some catching up to do on teen dating norms, too!
My bonus tip is to not minimize or exaggerate the importance of this relationship. Don’t point out that the odds are they’ll be broken up within the month. True or not, this relationship is a big deal to her and to trivialize it as just one of many in life will only signal to her that you don’t get it. Conversely, don’t talk about how cute it would be if they go to prom in four years or attend the same college. That’s a lot of pressure, and sets up unrealistic expectations.
Parents worry about protecting their daughters’ hearts and innocence when it comes to first boyfriends. Take a deep breath, gain some perspective, listen more than you talk, and stay involved. This is the recipe to help your daughter navigate the exciting yet unpredictability of early relationships. Success at this young stage will set up better odds of managing the more serious relationship issues of older teens. At least for your daughter, I’m not sure how I’ll manage her dad by then, he may need to be sedated.