It’s not easy for a dad when your little girl grows up and starts to date. You used to watch Disney movies with her (or perhaps provided the DVDs) and now she’s meeting with her Prince Charming for a date. She says, “Dad may I go to dinner with a friend? He’s a boy,” and you can feel her nervousness along with a dose of panic that rushes to your normally easygoing parental heart. Your response here is critical. You don’t want to sabotage your relationship with your daughter, but you want to protect her from her inexperience with boys. You want to let her go –as you understand that your daughter is going to date someday and it’s finally happening – but at the same time you are afraid of what might happen.
So how should you handle this as a real man and a loving dad?
1. Be calm
Knowing your daughter wants to go on a date may cause you to panic and be anxious for her, but if you respond in a hot-headed manner, your daughter might find a way to keep it hidden. As your daughter have saved up all that confidence to ask you, give back the same respect by carefully listening and responding. This way, if you would say no and explain why, she would submit to your authority.
Do not try to lecture her and rant about how young she is or how she is not yet ready for a relationship. Yes, she may probably still be sloppy and she doesn’t know how to cook – but relax Daddy, she is just going on a date, not her wedding. Let her know that obviously, you are not loving the thought of it, but you respect her decision. Assure her that you know she is responsible enough to be careful.
2. Keep an open perspective
While the thought of your daughter entering the world of dating may cause you understandable anxiety, remember that teenage dating can bring many benefits. Dating helps teens learn how to communicate properly, how to negotiate and how to determine what qualities they want in a friendship and perhaps a life partner. It’s a way for her to develop social skills, learn about the opposite sex around her age and grow emotionally. You may be able to talk about these things with your daughter, but it’s different when she discovers these firsthand.
Remember your first date – who it was with, how you felt, what you wore and where you went – to help you get yourself in your daughter’s shoes to give you better perspective. Your wife can also help weigh in on this. Remember how your parents reacted, and make them an example of what to do and what not to do now that you’re also a parent in that position.
Her first date may obviously not be the guy he eventually marries, but there’s a lot she can learn from this experience. Allowing her to date is good for her, as long as you are there to protect her, trust her and be open-minded about it. Keep in mind that adolescence is an exploratory stage where experience can be obtained while dating, and this can help her navigate her future, more mature relationships
3. Be kind
Make your presence a safe place for your daughter to be open and honest. You may consider her affections for the guy as “just a crush” or “puppy love”, but for her, it may be very real. Don’t try to minimize, trivialize and make fun of her first date or first relationship. When you think about it, this may be the first intimate relationship your child is building with someone outside the family. Keep your attitude positive and focus yourself on being calm and respectful. Express to her that you truly hope that she enjoys this moment.
4. Date your daughter first
The National Responsible Fatherhood Capacity Building Initiative (yes it’s a thing) encourages fathers to take out their daughters out on dates before a date or a boyfriend enters the scene. This is best to do when they are younger – kids would love it if they experience having a dad who treats them like a princess. If you never had a date with her, try to be her first date before any other guy. If she says she has plans with a boy on a Friday night, take her out on a Thursday or any time before that.
Use your “date” as a time for you to have a heart-to-heart, straight-forward talk about safety, sex and romance. Don’t creep her out by talking mostly about the dangers – consider that she’s an inexperienced teenager and one time, you have been in that position too. Talk as a caring and concerned dad and she will understand you. Discuss the importance of listening to her gut.
5. Get to know the guy
Before allowing your daughter to go on a date, try to get to know about your daughter’s new beau. If you already know the guy because he has been a good friend of your daughter, then it’s a good sign – all healthy romances start with good friendship. But if not, encourage your daughter to share and be open about her boyfriend or date with the family. Ask questions even if it pains you to do so. It pays to show interest in her life, and the people she is interested with. This will make the trust bond between the two of you even stronger. Accept the fact that eventually, your daughter is going to grow up and have a boyfriend, and if you deal with it the wrong way, you can drive that wedge between you.
It also doesn’t hurt to find out about the guy on your own, provided that you don’t go over the line. You can do a quick search online to find out a little more. You can check him out on Facebook as she is most probably friends with your daughter there.
Before the date, you can insist on meeting the man first, as she is still a teen living under your roof. You may ask her to ask the guy to pick him up at home, or drive her yourself to the venue of the date and meet the guy there. Either way, let your daughter and her date feel that you trust they are going to do good.
6. Set expectations
As you let your daughter go on a date, you may be placing her in the care of a date for a few hours, but her welfare is tied to the guidelines and expectations you set before this. Be clear with your daughter about your expectations. Set a curfew and ask her to keep her phone with her at all times. Explain to her that you would want her to check in with you as she and her date arrives the place, and tell you that the date is over and she is on the way home. However, emphasize that you will respect her time with the guy and will only call her if it’s really necessary. Depending on the level of permission you are comfortable to give your daughter, you may volunteer to drive for her instead of having her date pick her up and bring her home.
Discuss to her what you consider an acceptable and appropriate behavior. Tell her to call you ASAP if ever she feels unsafe with her date. But if she is good friends with the guy and she has known him for some time, that will probably be unlikely.
7. Encourage her to be open
If a guy asks her out and she didn’t want to go herself, she would not ask you about it. But because she wanted to go, she is interested. If you show that you are against this from the very start, you are only going to encourage secrecy and sneaking around, and no good comes out of this. For this reason, encourage your daughter to be open about her relationship. Ask her why she wanted to go. Does she like him more than friends? Is she really interested with the guy, or is she just under peer pressure? Is she generally happy and confident? Will she talk to you if something went wrong? Also talk about how it makes you feel. Be open about the fact that you are mostly scared, but you do acknowledge that this is part of growing up for her. Be vulnerable to help build trust between the two of you.
Take note of how she reacts when you want to discuss it. If she seems to be getting defensive and upset or dodging the questions even if you are calmly talking, take it as a sign that she is not yet ready. If she seems to take it well and if she is able to hold a great and open conversation between the two of you, then she has a level of emotional maturity.