Get ready for that first date - your child's that is

March 03, 1998|By SUSAN REIMER

I ONCE HEARD a father describe how he greeted his daughter's dates and I have never forgotten his inspired approach.

He composed several innocuous questions -- what sports do you like, are you thinking about college, how are your grades, what do your parents do, -- and then wrote the questions on the side of a baseball bat.

When the young man arrived to pick up his daughter, the father asked the young man to take a walk with him so they could get to know each other. He took the baseball bat with him, turning it and tapping it gently on his palm as he read the mild questions.

No suitor, no matter how dense, could mistake this father's feelings for his daughter and toward any young man who presumed to date her.

Dating happens to parents, I think, long before they are ready for it. No matter how old their daughters or sons, parents are unprepared for the day when the kids stop going out in packs and choose to be alone with one another. And it is scary.

Determined not to be caught off-guard this way, a friend and his wife recently wrote an "application to date" to be completed by any young man arriving at the door for their 15-year-old daughter.

The document they drew up is very funny, but I'm not sure the parents were kidding.

"It was my wife's inspiration," my friend said. "She had been thinking about our daughter dating. We found it hard to like any of the boys who came over. So she wrote this -- to humor herself and as a last resort."

The application asks for name, height, weight and date of birth, but it also asks for IQ and recent results from an HIV test.

It asks if the applicant has any pierced body parts, a tattoo or if he has spent time in a correctional facility.

"If YES to any of the above, discontinue application and leave premises immediately," said the document in bold, black type.

Essay questions follow: "What does the word 'no' mean?" "What does the word 'late' mean?"

Next comes the fill-in-the-blank portion of the test: "When I meet a girl, the first thing I notice is her _____________." "The one thing I hope this application doesn't ask is _____________."

If the application for a date with their daughter is accepted, the young man is asked to dinner at the home, invited to view the father's blue bottle collection and then permitted to take the family pets for a walk.

Once all these steps have been successfully completed, the applicant will be considered a candidate to take their daughter to a pre-approved movie.

"For some reason," my friend said, "my daughter didn't think this was very funny."

Patti Flowers-Coulson, director of the Governor's Council on Adolescent Pregnancy, has her own dating document, and she is very serious about it.

It is a list of 10 statements that she asks parents and their teens, together, to rank in order of importance. Sort of like "talking points" for dating.

How would you rank them?:

Not getting pregnant or not getting someone pregnant out of wedlock.

Being a virgin at marriage.

Not contracting a sexually transmitted disease.

Receiving quality sex education from school or church.

Not getting hurt as the result of a sexual relationship.

Having open communication between myself and my child about sex.

Not exploiting another person sexually.

Only sharing sexual intimacy within the context of a loving relationship.

Not experimenting with sex at too early an age.

Not being influenced by peer pressure to have sex.

Reading this list puts a great many things in perspective for parents. I would have to rank "not getting pregnant or getting someone pregnant out of wedlock" as my No. 1 priority.

And, viewed in the context of this list, "being a virgin at marriage" falls to the bottom for me, far behind "not contracting an STD," even below "not getting hurt as the result of a sexual relationship."

"The critical piece of this exercise is that the kids number what they think their parents think. Parents number the points the way they really think and then everyone talks about it," she said.

"Actually," Flowers-Coulson said, "they argue with you about it. But it eases some of the awkwardness parents and teens have about this topic.

"The importance of this list is it makes parents sit back and reexamine why they believe what they believe," Flowers-Coulson said. "One things teens do, and they are supposed to do it, is challenge your value system. They have an uncanny way of sensing when you aren't sure what you believe and they will go right for it."

How you rank these statements is up to you, but think about them. And talk about them with your spouse and your child.

No matter what age your child starts dating, it will happen before you know it. But it doesn't have to happen before you are ready for it.

Pub Date: 4/25/98

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