Many of us say when it comes to how old we are, age is just a number. But when it comes to who our teenage daughters are dating, and who they fall in love with, let's be honest, age does matter.
How comfortable would you be if your 12-year-old daughter was dating a 17-year-old boy? Or if your 18-year-old daughter was dating an older man, say, one in in his 40s? (By the way, these 5 sex-related questions are essential to ask your older teen.)
With some celebrity couples having large age gaps, there is cause for parents to wonder how they would feel if their teenage daughter was dating someone old enough to be their parent, how they would handle it and if there is need for concern.
Dane Cook, a 46-year-old actor has been dating 19-year-old singer, Kelsi Taylor. The 27-year age gap has left some thinking the relationship is "creepy" and while other celebrity couples such as David Hasselhoff, 66 and Hayley Roberts, 38 have an even bigger age gap of 28 it’s just not the same—the fact that she is not a teenager, and has more life experience which makes it not as concerning if she were still in her teens.
As a mom to a 13-year-old, my daughter's happiness is the most important thing to me of course, and my teenager daughter dating an older boy of a year or two I could understand. But I wouldn't be comfortable if she was dating someone over 20 years her senior. It would make me wonder if her father or I had failed her in some way or if she was acting out in need of some other attention she never got as a child. I want her to be with someone who is on her level and able to go through life experiences with her.
We spoke with experts on the subject who offered some advice for parents for how to talk to teenage daughter about dating and sex, how to prevent your teen daughter from dating older men, and how to cope with it if this happens.
Why Do Some Teen Girls Gravitate Towards Older Men?
First, it’s important to understand why this happens. Clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., explains that many young girls fall for older men because of an "unconscious need to feel safe and loved," she says. Many of them "unknowingly" seek love and affection from age-inappropriate man to feel a "sense of being fathered and protected," she says.
Most much older men who seek out younger women, especially teenagers, do so because of a need to "control the person who is seeking love and attention," says Manly.
And whether the older person is male or female, they often feel an "ego-boost as a result of having captured a younger person," she explains.
As we get older, age gaps matter less but it's important to note that teenagers benefit most from relationships with those who are the same age as "it's vital to have similar emotional, cognitive, and physical maturity levels when dating," says Manly. (Discover how you might be able to tell if your daughter is sexcasting.)
Communication Is Key With Teen Dating Rules
You must keep an open dialogue around ground rules for teenage dating without using "lewd and crude words," as that can make your daughter go into “rebellious mode,” says Raysha Clark is a licensed associate counselor in Arkansas.
Bringing up the conversation can be tough, but Clark suggests talking about some "hopeless love experiences you've had." Make sure it is just a conversation, not a lecture. If your child feels like you are lecturing them, you are more likely to lose them as soon as you start talking.
Manly adds the best thing you can do to prevent your daughter from being drawn to an age-inappropriate partner is to "provide consistent, loving parenting" as sound parenting helps grow confident children and will naturally draw our kids to date people their own age
Don't forget to discuss this topic with your children (even if they aren't dating an older person and you don’t think they ever will), and address the reasons why dating older men isn't beneficial to them. Let them know the older person is often "controlling, needy and dependent," Manly says. And make sure your conversation is open and allows for "back and forth dialogue" that will promote “critical thinking and awareness."
Our teenage girls have social media to lure them towards older males these days so it's important to pay attention to what they are doing and who they are talking to as well.
Clark says teens have "limited emotional psychological, and cognitive development" which can make them "rebellious, awkward, moody, and make them have a very limited ability to calculate risks."
Start Talking to Your Teens Early to Set Ground Rules for Teenage Dating
It's important to make this an ongoing conversation that doesn't just happen when you find out your teenager is falling for a someone old enough to be their parent. If you aren't talking about it, you can make them feel like it's a subject they can't bring up, and "the moment you make it taboo, you lose your credibility as a sensible sounding board," says Clark.
Clark adds that fathers need to have a presence in these conversations, too, and start talking to their daughter about their "crushes" at an early age and show involvement.
If Your Older Teen Daughter Is Already Seeing a Much Older Man, Here's What You Need to Do
Clark says if your daughter is already seeing someone much older and you aren't comfortable, you have to live with it. The right thing to do in this case is "support and educate" them as it's entirely possible to "support your child even if you wholeheartedly disagree," says Clark.
When our kids know they are supported, that is what leaves a lasting impression on them. If you are "deemed approachable," says Clark, "you have a better chance of exploring the pitfalls of relationships with people at differing maturity levels."
Don't speak negatively about the person they are seeing (yes, even if your teenager daughter dating an older boy or man), but don't let them come to dinner either. This way you are setting boundaries within your comfort zone without disrespecting their partner.
As a parent we can’t control everything our teenagers do, but being involved, having open conversations and letting them know we support them will go a long way in helping them choose the right partner when they begin dating and beyond.