Since your daughter was a baby, you dreaded this day. She’s in love with an older boy.
You can’t forbid your daughter from dating an older boy – or can you? Studies show that there may be good reasons to do so. According to a survey of 1,000 teens by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), teenage girls who date boys two or more years older are more likely to smoke, drink and use drugs.
Other study findings included the following:
- Adolescents who spent 25 or more hours a week with a romantic interest were more than twice as likely to drink than teens who spent 10 hours or less dating.
- The teens who spent more time with a boyfriend or girlfriend were five times more likely to get drunk.
- 58 percent of girls who had boyfriends at least two years older drank alcohol, compared to 25 percent of the girls who dated boys their own age or not at all.
- 50 percent of the girls who dated older boys smoked marijuana, compared to 8 percent of the other girls, and 65 percent smoked, compared to 14 percent of girls who dated boys their own age or not at all.
CASA also cited interesting statistics regarding the reasons teens decide to have sex. Forty-five percent of teens surveyed said they lost their virginity because “the other person wanted to”; 32 percent were “just curious”; 28 percent “hoped it would make the relationship closer”; and 16 percent cited the reason that “many of their friends already had.”
The Risks of Dating an Older Boy
Among teenagers around 14 years of age, almost half in relationships report dating someone at least two years older. There are many risks in dating an older boy, including:
- More pressure to have sex
- The ability of an older boy to buy alcohol for his minor girlfriend
- Greater influence because the boy is older and more experienced
- Younger girls lack the assertiveness and self-confidence to stand up for themselves (for example, by waiting to have sex or insisting on the use of condoms)
According to studies, one in four girls who have had sex say their first time was with a boy at least three years older than them. And girls are less likely to require an older partner to use a condom, putting them at greater risk for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases than other sexually active teens.
The risky behaviors endure beyond a given relationship. Research suggests that girls who lose their virginity to an older boy end up having more sexual partners than girls whose first time is with someone their own age, often because it sets a pattern of dating older men.
Tips for Parents
Talk About Dating and Sex
According to the CASA study, teens welcome their parents’ guidance on dating issues. Forty-two percent of teens said they would like to honestly discuss dating with their parents, and 64 percent of teens don’t have sex because they “worry about what their parents might think.”
Ask your daughter about her likes and dislikes in the boys she meets. Start conversations about dating long before high school, when teenage girls are less likely to open up and are more likely to already be dating someone who is older than them.
Educate your teen girl about the risks of sex as these facts can make a difference in her behavior. According to the CASA study, half of the adolescents surveyed said fear of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases is the main reason why they don’t have sex.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, open communication and accurate information from parents increase the likelihood that teens will delay having sex and use birth control once they do begin. In talking with your daughter, make sure to do the following:
- Encourage her to talk and ask questions.
- Maintain a calm, nonjudgmental tone.
- Try to determine her level of knowledge and understanding about sex.
- Don’t be afraid to admit your own discomfort in talking about sex.
- Make sure she understands that sex is closely linked to love and respect for herself and her partner.
- Share your morals and values (the CASA study showed that many teens choose to delay having sex because of the religion, morals, and values they learn from their parents).
- Help her take accountability for and evaluate the pros and cons of her choices.
Set Ground Rules
Parents should set rules about who their teenage girl can date and share these rules with the boy she’s interested in. For example, you may decide that she can only date someone one year older than her, or she can only go out on group dates until a certain age (often 16). Until you get to know and trust her love interest, you can also set limits around how late at night boys are allowed to call and how long a conversation can last, and require your daughter and her romantic interest to hang out only in your home when you’re there.
These limitations give young girls time to establish boundaries of their own and practice saying no before they are put in a compromising situation. It also makes it difficult for an older boy to date your daughter unless he’s willing to abide by your rules.
Teenagers continue developing until age 25, so try to encourage your daughter to wait to get deeply involved with an older boy until then. Rather than making threats or blatantly forbidding your daughter to see a certain boy, which may make her more rebellious, explain the reasons behind your rules and encourage her to talk openly with you about dating. She needs someone knowledgeable who she can trust to talk to about her concerns and questions.
Foster a Strong Father-Daughter Relationship
Experts have found that teen girls are more likely to seek out older boys and risky situations if they don’t have a strong relationship with their father. When dads aren’t actively involved in their daughters’ lives, girls look to their romantic interests to fill any void they feel from their relationship with their father.
Fathers should spend time with their daughters, get involved in their lives, and listen to what they have to say. They should also explain the way teenage boys think and the risks of dating an older boy. With love, boundaries, and trust, fathers can help ensure their daughters don’t grow up too fast.
Limit Their Work Hours and Environment
Although it may sound strange, limiting the number of hours your daughter works can safeguard her sexual health. A study by researchers at the University of Michigan found that teenage girls who work part-time are more likely to be in an adult atmosphere without adequate supervision, which may lead to sexual activity with older partners.
Model Realistic, Healthy Relationships
Teenage girls are often filled with idealistic fantasies of their dream man. Encourage your daughter to seek out relationships with boys who are kind and treat her well rather than boys who look a certain way or are popular. Model what a healthy relationship looks like in your own home, and show her how to handle conflict with mutual respect and understanding.
Teenage girls mature sooner than boys, both physically and emotionally, but this doesn’t mean they are ready to date older boys. If you are concerned about your teenage girl’s dating habits or the decisions she’s making about boys and sex, therapeutic boarding schools and residential treatment programs for teens can help her re-evaluate her choices, build self-esteem and establish healthy relationships.