Include daughter while establishing dating guidelines

TOTS TO TEENS

January 31, 1995|By Dr. Modena Wilson and Dr. Alain Joffe | Dr. Modena Wilson and Dr. Alain Joffe,Special to The Sun

Q: Our 15-year-old daughter is very interested in a boy at school. Last week he asked her to go to a movie -- her first date. Any suggestions on how we should handle this?

A: Dating is a part of your daughter's normal maturing process. The question suggests that you've agreed to let her go and we agree with you on that point. If you and your spouse haven't discussed your expectations about dating with her, now is the perfect time to begin. We believe it is much better to formulate general guidelines about matters such as dating beforehand, rather than having you and your daughter discover that you each had widely varying expectations abut what constitutes acceptable dating behavior.

Both parents should discuss with each other what acceptable ground rules will be. To provide consistency for your daughter, it is important that both parents be in agreement about the rules. Otherwise, one parent will look like the "good guy" and the other, the "bad parent."

Topics you may wish to discuss are transportation, curfews, whether her date should come inside to great you each time and under what circumstances a chaperon may be in order. Will you let the two of them go to a party at a friend's house if parents are not home? You should also be certain in your own minds what kinds of penalties you will implement in the event that a ground rule is violated.

If you're not sure about your feelings on these matters, you may wish to talk with some of your friends to find out what rules they have developed. These rules can be modified to fit your own family's values.

We also think it's a good idea to discuss the whole issue with your daughter and get her opinions about your general guidelines. Ultimately, you must make the decision about what is acceptable, but we suggest you negotiate any area where you feel there is some flexibility.

For example, if you are an hour apart on her curfew, you may wish to split the difference. In certain other areas, especially where safety is an issue (no riding with a drinking driver), stand firm in your decision. Setting up clear rules ahead of time helps your daughter to say no in situations where others may encourage her to participate in behaviors of which you do not approve.

Be prepared to re-examine your positions as she gains more experience with dating. You may wish to relax the curfew if she shows she is responsible. Regardless, make sure she understands you're always available to talk. Finally, let her know that if she ever finds herself in an uncomfortable situation on a date, that you'll come pick her up regardless of the time.

Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.

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