Q: My daughter is 14 and is getting interested in boys, and she seems more attracted to guys outside of our race. I am not a racist person but I would like to discourage this for one simple reason: That a lot of people aren't fair to a mixed couple and I don't want her to suffer for this. As I write this it sounds like I'm prejudiced, but I really don't want her to be in pain as a result of this. Is there a way of discouraging these relationships without seeming prejudiced?
A: No, there is no way of “not seeming prejudiced” — because you are. Plain and simple.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, prejudice is defined as "an adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts." Although your letter states that you do not feel that you are prejudiced, I'm suspect that your daughter believes you are. I understand your concern for the social difficulties that a mixed couple may face, but these tend to be influenced by old, antiquated notions. In addition, you must take into account the possibility that in your daughter's social situation mixed couples may not receive special treatment or prejudice from their peers. Kids today more frequently have the chance to get to know children of different races, religions and ethnic backgrounds, an opportunity which many of their parents did not have.
Either way, I can guarantee that your daughter will not understand your position. That said, there are two important factors for both of you to take into account when dealing with the subject of boyfriends in general and this situation in particular. I suggest the following two points be discussed between you and your daughter:
- I believe you need to take a look at your attitude toward the types of people you would want your daughter to associate with. In my mind (and this is based upon years of experience dealing with this exact issue with many, many adolescents), the best way to approach this situation is that your child's selection of friends should not be based upon race, but upon merit, values and compatibility. I suggest setting reasonable guidelines for the kids that she will associate with, such as being a good student, not in trouble with the law, respectful to their parents as well as to you and your family, respectful to your daughter, and involved in athletic or community organizations. These are the benchmarks of good character, regardless of the color of skin, religious affiliation or socioeconomic background. If your daughter can see that you are fair and that all you want for her is to be with someone of good character, the issue of skin color will be a moot point, both for you and for her. If she brings home a young man of a different race who meets these guidelines, I would hope that you would get to know him as a person and respect the successes that he has had enjoyed.
- For your daughter, tell her that she needs to watch out for the trap into which many girls I've counseled have fallen — dating boys only from another race, religion or socioeconomic status as a statement of rebellion. I tell these youngsters that exclusively dating someone of another group is just as prejudiced as only dating someone of their own background. Many kids think that it's "cool" to cross over the boundaries, not necessarily because they respect or like the person, but because they're using the difference to make a statement. Obviously, this is unfair to the other person, as they are, in actuality, being manipulated and used.
With this kind of communication, I believe both of you, to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, will come to judge your daughter's dates on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.
Ruth A. Peters, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and regular contributor to “Today.” Her most recent book is "Laying Down the Law: The 25 Laws of Parenting" (, 2002). She is also the consultant psychologist for the Family Program at the Pritikin Longevity Center, a nutrition and exercise facility in Aventura, Florida. For more information you can visit her Web site at . Copyright ©2004 by Ruth A. Peters, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific psychological or medical advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand the lives and health of themselves and their children. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist.