Dating. We’ve all done it and it seems these days’ kids are throwing around the Boyfriend and Girlfriend labels younger than ever before. I’ve come up with a handy little acronym that will hopefully help you and your teenager take those first few scary giant steps into the world of dating. Just remember G.I.R.L.S.
The ‘G’ is a gentle reminder that gender doesn’t matter. Society is slowly becoming more accepting of the fact that sexuality isn’t really that simple and there are a multitude of different sexualities that your daughter might identify as. The LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Questioning and Intersex) community in New Zealand is one of support and acceptance and if you or your daughter is struggling with her sexuality I suggest you find a local support group. Rainbow Youth, while based in Auckland is a wealth of information and a good starting point for anybody looking for support. The biggest thing about having a daughter who doesn’t indentify as straight or is confused about her sexuality is to be open, understanding and accepting and remember it doesn’t change who she is. Let her come out in her own time and when she does make sure she knows that you still love her regardless.
‘I’ in our acronym stands for Independence. This is a step that starts well before your daughter is ready to date. Raising an independent, confident and free thinking daughter who doesn’t associate her worth with what others think of her means she’s more likely to make choices you’ll approve of. (See the last ABC article for a few tips on how to help your daughter with her self confidence). Surround her with examples of good, healthy relationships and give her something positive to aim towards. If she sees you and the other men in her life treating women well she’s more likely to find somebody that will do the same with her.
Possibly the most important part of your teenage daughter dating is the ‘R’. Rules. Laying down the law and making it clear and fair before your daughter starts dating means there is more time for to accept the rules of engagement, so to speak and means less arguments and confusion when she eventually has a boyfriend or girlfriend. Setting a curfew and deciding on rules around closed bedroom doors, sleepovers and even an age that she can start dating early on will set you on the right path. Growing up I knew the rules regarding boys, they were simple, to the point and easy to follow which for the most part I did. My Dad was a bit liberal however and you might want to get into a little more detail than his ‘Don’t do anything you won’t tell me about and don’t see any boys you won’t bring home.’
The ‘L’ is for loving her when it all goes wrong. Dating almost always leads to eventual heartbreak and while your first instinct is probably to head out and do some serious bodily harm to whoever is responsible for hurting your little girl, she is more important. Let her know that she’s still loved and that it’s perfectly normal for her to feel the way she does. Follow her lead, if she needs space, give her space and if she needs love and cuddles lay on the TLC. Remember that a relationship breakup in your teens seems like the end of the world and can lead to self destructive behaviour. If your daughter isn’t handling a breakup well and she’s starting to behave recklessly or may be a danger to herself seek help immediately. The faster she speaks to a professional the less damage is done.
The last part of our acronym is ‘S’ for surveillance. Now, I’m not talking going through her room or reading her texts. What I mean is keeping a watchful eye on her relationships. Domestic violence amongst young couples is on the rise and as a parent you need to be on the look out for signs that something isn’t right. Talk to your daughter about the different types of domestic violence and make sure she’s aware that there don’t have to be bruises for it to be abusive. The most prominent type of DM amongst young people is psychological abuse and control. Being young your daughter is more likely to take things to heart and not realise what her partner is doing by constantly berating or controlling her. If your daughter suddenly seems withdrawn, stop communicating with friends, loses confidence or loses that sparkle in her eye it could be a sign that her relationship isn’t going right. Be aware and if you have any concerns contact an organisation like Shine who have plenty of resources and information.
Above all else the most important thing to remember when your teenage daughter begins dating is to love her, listen to her and trust that she will make the right decisions, even if it takes her a while.