A recent study entitled “Dating and Disclosure,” published in the Journal of Adolescence, says that when it comes to sharing details about dating, teenage girls talk more with their parents—and it’s more likely to be mom. Perhaps most parents would like their kids to kiss and tell—and some might have special worries about daughters dating an older boy. According to another study, it turns out they have good reason to be worried.
“Because I am dating an older guy, you know, I am more open to alcohol, just because I can ask him, ‘Hey can you go to the store and buy me something?’” says one female teen.
She says another risk of dating an older guy is being pressured into having sex. “I think a lot of guys, especially in high school, will go for younger girls just because they’ll give it up.”
In fact, according to a study by the non-profit group Child Trends, one in five girls has dated a boy at least three years older, and 10 percent say they’ve had sex with an older boy before they turned 16.
The Pressure’s On
“Girls definitely tell me that they feel like they have to honor the sexual requests of their boyfriends or they will get dumped. And there are a lot of girls that are feeling pressure that way,” says licensed psychologist Nancy McGarrah, PhD.
What’s more, according to the study, girls who date older guys are less likely to use protection, more likely to become pregnant, and twice as likely to acquire an STD.
“Frequently the younger girl is naïve. Sometimes she doesn’t have the assertiveness to stand up for herself and demand that a condom be used,” says McGarrah.
Parents must set ground rules: the teen can only date someone one grade above or below and only go on group dates until she’s 16. “Explain that you trust them and you know they are a mature person, but at the same time there’s different levels of maturity. Just like they are not ready to get married, they are not ready to have babies, and they are also not ready to be in relationships with people significantly older than they are,” says McGarrah.
Tips for Parents
When it comes to talking to parents about most dating issues, teen girls tend to disclose more than boys, and both sexes generally prefer to talk to their mothers.
But a new study says girls and boys are equally close-mouthed about sex and what they do on dates while unsupervised. In the study, teens were no more eager to talk to their mothers than to their fathers.
You can talk with your teens about the qualities of a healthy dating relationship. When a BF or GF uses insults, mean language, nasty putdowns, gets physical (hitting or slapping), or forces someone into sexual activity, it’s a warning sign of verbal, emotional, or physical abuse. Ask your teen to question if his/her partner:
- Gets angry when she doesn’t drop everything for him.
- Criticizes how she looks or dresses, and says she’ll never be able to find anyone else who would date her.
- Keeps her from seeing friends or from talking to any other guys or girls.
- Wants him to quit an activity, even though he loves it.
- Ever raises a hand when angry.
- Tries to force her to go further sexually than she wants to.
Ask if your teen and her significant other treat each other well. If she’s unsure, ask her to think about whether her relationship has these qualities:
- Mutual respect. Your BF or GF is into you for who you are—your sense of humor, your love of reality TV, etc. Does your partner listen if you say you’re uncomfortable doing something and back off right away? Respect means each person values the other and understands—and would never challenge—the other’s boundaries.
- Trust. You’re talking with a guy after class and your BF walks by. Does he lose it or keep walking because he knows you’d never cheat? It’s okay to be jealous sometimes; that’s natural. But how a person reacts when feeling jealous is key. There’s no healthy relationship without trust.
- Support. It’s not just in bad times that your partner should support you. Some people are great if your world is falling apart but can’t take it when things go well (and vice versa). In a healthy relationship, your significant other offers a shoulder to cry on when you find out your parents are getting divorced, and to celebrate with you when you get the lead in a play.
- Good communication. You’ve probably heard about how men and women don’t seem to speak the same language. We all know how many different meanings the phrase “No, nothing’s wrong” can have, depending on who says it. But what’s important is to ask if you’re not sure what he means, and speak honestly and openly so miscommunication doesn’t occur.
Encourage your teen to think about the qualities he/she values in a friendship and see how these match the ingredients of a healthy relationship. Remind your teen to develop those good qualities; they make everyone more attractive to others.
Sites & Sources
- Nemours Foundation Kids Health, kidshealth.org/teen
- Teen Girls Talk More to Parents About Dating, researchnews.osu.edu/archive/datingdisclose.htm
Reprinted with permission from Connect with Kids; ConnectwithKids.com.