Dating and the Teenage Girl

For years, I have subscribed to the idea that young girls shouldn’t date. Most people disagree with me and see nothing wrong with 14, 15, or 16 year old girls having a boyfriend. I believe when a teenage girl dates, it changes who she is and who she could become.  I also believe the difference between how girls and boys view relationships, makes it difficult to have a lasting relationship as a teenager.

Young girls between the ages of 14 and 16 are in a period of their life I call the ‘information years’. These are the years when they are beginning to understand concepts of the world, figuring out what they like and don’t like and figuring out who they want to become. This gathering of information is happening, while their bodies are changing, their sexuality is being discovered (if it hasn’t been discovered already) and determining what it means to be a woman. When a teenage girl dates, the information years are interrupted. She is no longer gathering information about herself and trying to understand who she is. Her focus has shifted from herself to her boyfriend and that could mean anything from focusing a little less on her wants to dropping everyone in her life. No matter the depth, it is impossible for a young girl to figure out who she is supposed to be while half or more than half of her attention is focused on another person who wants her time, her mind and her body. Furthermore, the perspective a teenage girl has about herself and her view of the world, will be shaped by a boyfriend with his impressions and ideas; good or bad.

When considering to allow a teenage girl to date, how girls and a boys view relationships is important to think about.  I have made this argument in the past and again, people disagreed with me.  Then in 2009, I saw an episode of Oprah that has allowed me to demonstrate this argument.  Courtney and Pierce were on a show titled ‘They Say They’re Ready to Have Sex’. They were both 14. Dr. Laura Berman was also on the show and one of the first questions she asked both of them was ‘How long do you plan to stay together?’ Pierce’s answer: ‘I hope a long time.’ When pressed for specifics, Pierce said six months to a year. I wish you could’ve seen how fast Courtney’s head whipped around to look at him. Dr. Berman asked her, ‘You didn’t know that did you?’ Courtney said no. When asked if she still wanted Pierce to be her first, Courtney said no, ‘I thought a long time was not having an expiration date.’ It dawned on me after watching the show that people don’t understand teenage girls have long term plans in their minds when they are in love, feel close to someone and especially if sex is involved.  Also, teenage girls think teenage boys are thinking long term.  Teenage boys think in the short term even if they feel love, closeness and not especially if sex is involved.  Many times, sex is just sex and not a significant part of the relationship for a boy.  Most young girls do not have the aptitude to navigate through the complexities of these differences.  Courtney didn’t even know what questions she was supposed to ask and there’s no reason she should.  There are grown women and men who can’t understand all the complexities of how the opposite sex views relationships, so why would we allow teenagers to try.

During conversations I’ve had about this subject, people have regaled me with stories of family members or friends,who have been together since they were teenagers. My response to every one of them: your cousin or best friend’s mother, is not the norm. Most teenage girls do not stay with the person they begin dating when they are 14, 15 or 16. And even if they do, many of the couples have issues in their relationships because they realize, 10 or even 20 years later, they never understood what they needed and wanted.  There is nothing in the world anyone would give someone that was unfinished or partly done unless they just didn’t care.  But we freely give our daughters, who don’t fully understand who they are, to someone who may decide that for them.  We are doing a disservice to our young girls by not allowing them to continue their growth and development as young women.  A teenage girl who doesn’t date is not guaranteed to understand herself, her wants or who she could become, but she has a better chance of accomplishing all of it if she doesn’t date.

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