Q: My 14-year-old daughter has recently begun to date a young man who is 18. She told us he was 16, thinking that we would accept him better if we thought he was younger. However, we have found out how old he really is, and are concerned about her dating someone four years older than she. We hesitate to tell her she can’t see him, yet her father and I do not feel comfortable with the age difference. Is it fair to tell her that she can’t go out with him? (She already feels we do not have the right to “pick her friends.”)
A: Allowing a fourteen-year-old to date an adult is very likely unwise. Although she will no doubt disagree, your daughter’s worldliness is probably limited, and she may be quite naïve in terms of relationships and potential sexual matters. The young man may be a terrific person, but most likely his experience is significantly greater than your daughter’s and she may be thrown into making adult decisions as a young adolescent.
On the very slight chance, though, that his maturity level is much lower than his age would predict — and to be totally fair to both your daughter and her friend — it may be wise to meet him. (This is also a good way of easing her more gently toward your probable termination of the relationship.) If he seems to behave more as a sixteen-year-old — in terms of past romantic experiences and how he treats your daughter — it may be okay to allow him to visit her, but only in a supervised setting. However, if his experience appears to be out of her league, it’s definitely best to take the matter in hand and discontinue the relationship entirely.
This likely will not be easy. Your daughter will probably be quite angry with you and your husband. Be patient. Try to explain your reasons to her. Encourage friendships with kids her own age and be prepared for a temporary cold war between the generations. With luck, she’ll meet a new friend closer to her age, and you can show her that you will accept someone who is more appropriate for her and that you’re truly not trying to pick her friends.
It takes a great deal of courage to say “no” to something that your child deems to be very important, but there are times when you, as the parent, know better and you have to stick to your guns.
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). 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.