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My 14-year-old daughter told me she likes a boy in her class, and that he has recently “proposed" to her—which means that they will tell their friends that they are boyfriend and girlfriend. She brought this up at home, and her father simply brushed it off, saying there is no such thing, not at her age. However, the boy seems to be waiting for an answer, and my daughter is waiting for me to give her permission. I don’t know what to do. I know it is quite common now, but am not sure it is right. Both are good students, and we don’t want their studies to be affected.

It’s good that your daughter felt free to tell you—a sign that your lines of communication are open even on potentially difficult issues. While her father may be right, “technically", that this is no time to get involved in boyfriend-girlfriend relationships, the fact is that it is happening all around, and parents need to deal with it, and advise their adolescents without simply dismissing it and shutting down dialogue.

The definition of this “proposed" part—that they be each other’s boyfriend and girlfriend, and what it entails—is different in different cultures, varies from city to city, even school to school. Perhaps you should ask her what it involves. You would need to spell out that it is too early for physical intimacy. How much time will they be spending alone together? Does it involve excluding other good friends, or is it more loosely structured than that?

This could be an opportunity for you to talk to her about how to treat any special relationship—give it its due space, but not become obsessed and overfocused—which is something that would be sound advice at any age. You would need to set down mutually acceptable (between you and her) rules about the number and time of text messages that they can exchange. Basically, you would first understand the scope of this proposed relationship, and then agree on how exclusive and demanding it can or cannot be.

Do tell her that any liaison at this age should be as much about fun and special-ness, as it should be about letting the other grow, do well at studies and other pursuits. Give her examples of people who have excluded other people, hobbies, family outings, and even school work, college or careers, when they misguidedly obsess over the presence of a boyfriend or girlfriend—and this applies to any age group.

After this, if she does want to say “yes" to the boy, do keep an eye/ear out to know what is going on, and keep the lines of communication open by promising not to snoop on her in any way, but expecting her to be open with you.

Advise her father not to be overly disapproving or dismissive of this friendship.

Gouri Dange is the author of More ABCs Of Parenting and ABCs Of Parenting.

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